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Sue Ellen Thompson

Unaccustomed to Maryland’s
early spring, I open
the front door warily:
Warmth moves in.

The limbs of the Bradford Pear
are freighted with snowballs of bloom.
All night I hear
them pummeling the lawn.

Its brown silk torn
by the Oxford-to-Bellevue ferry,
the Chesapeake seems worn
out, dispirited,

unlike the fractious streams
of New England. I have given
up everything to be
here with my husband

in this mild place
I must learn to call home.
I am chilly and warm at the same
time, loved and alone.

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A muted keening. A wandering back and forth.
A slippery grip on when and where.
Alone in his ten rooms up north.

He cannot taste. He cannot hear
much of what the television says.
Now, it seems, he can no longer bear

Christmas, which reminds him of the days
when he was father to five and led us in,
blindfolded, to the tree. Or Memorial Day,

which brings back The War. Since
my mother died, he’s become
another man entirely: submissive,

prone to weeping. I know that some
fathers get cantankerous when they’re old
and sometimes I wish he were one

of them. I can look at my daughter and know
where she came from. But when I look
at my father I think, Where do he go?

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Like newlyweds or parents-to-be,
we were thrilled for weeks
by our courage. But for the first
few days after moving, we argued fiercely
over minor things: whether to center
the loveseats on the fireplace,
and who had forgotten to pack
the wine-stopper, shaped
like the Bridge of Sighs,
we’d bought to remind ourselves
how happy we had been in Venice.
My mother, who was dying
that fall, insisted we take the trip
as planned and made me promise
we would be happy. As she held out
her arms to say goodbye, flesh fluttered
from the bone. For nearly two weeks
we did as she’d asked. Then we came home.


During the day I felt queasy,
as if I’d stepped out of my car
onto the deck of an aircraft carrier
covering three small states
and christened the Delmarva.
It was November, and the cold
had followed me south,
although there were days
whose mildness was surprising enough
to make me suspect their motives.

At night I gripped the rails of the headboard
to steady my thoughts. This
was where I lived now: next to my husband
in our new bed, a vast expanse
of blanket and sheet across which,
in the middle of the night, I often reached
and could not find him.


In the local bookstore one day,
I meet a woman with skin my age.
I keep her phone number until I find
the courage to offer a glass of wine.
All day I’m distracted by what to wear—
I haven’t felt this way in years.

Only after our blood has cooled
do we realize that we’ve made fools
of ourselves for men for years and begin
to channel that ardor toward other women.
As if savoring an affair’s delicious imminence,
I contemplate the making of a friend.

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About the Poet
Sue Ellen Thompson is the author of four books of poems, most recently The Golden Hour, and the editor of The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. She recently moved to the Eastern Shore from New England, where she taught at Wesleyan University, Middlebury College, and Central Connecticut State University.