Not Let Go

April 22, 2015

Photo courtesy David Mao

Introduction by Ted Kooser: I don’t think I’ve ever sold anything that, later, I didn’t wish I had back, and I have a list of regrets as long as my arm. So this poem by Melissa Balmain really caught my attention. Balmain lives in New York State, and her most recent book is Walking in on People, from Able Muse Press.

Love Poem

The afternoon we left our first apartment,
we scrubbed it down from ceiling to parquet.
Who knew the place could smell like lemon muffins?
It suddenly seemed nuts to move away.

The morning someone bought our station wagon,
it gleamed with wax and every piston purred.
That car looked like a centerfold in Hot Rod!
Too late, we saw that selling was absurd.

And then there was the freshly tuned piano
we passed along to neighbors with a wince.
We told ourselves we’d find one even better;
instead we’ve missed its timbre ever since.

So if, God help us, we are ever tempted
to ditch our marriage when it’s lost its glow,
let’s give the thing our finest spit and polish—
and, having learned our lesson, not let go.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2014 by Melissa Balmain, “Love Poem,” from Walking in on People, (Able Muse Press, 2014). Poem reprinted by permission of Melissa Balmain and Able Muse Press. Introduction copyright ©2015 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Everyday adventures

Happiness is a Bigger Bed

May 23, 2014

The discussion starts like this:

“Could you move your elbow?”

“No, there’s no place for me to put it.”

“You’re on my side.”

“No, I’m not. I’m right on the edge of the bed. Look—you’re taking up more than your half!”

“No, I’m not—I’m hanging off my side…”

And on it goes as my husband and I bicker about space while we read in bed before we go to sleep. He’s bigger than I am, but does that mean I should give up my comfort so he can have more room? And in turn, why do I insist on a strict 50-50 division, even though we are not equal in size?

Don't forget room for me...
It occurs to me this little argument is a sort of parallel for marriage, or any close relationship for that matter: Each person struggling for territory of his or her own while trying to stay together in a finite space.

Is there a solution? Yes, and it’s simple:

Buy a bigger bed.

Or, create a relationship that gives both parties more room. Look for the win-win.

Too often we get caught up in our own points of view, in believing we’re right and our partner is wrong, when really, we’re both right. Working this out takes awareness and flexibility. We need to be aware of our true needs, our partner’s needs and what the situation calls for. One person shouldn’t have to make all the sacrifices, and both should feel free to make their needs known. We shouldn’t always cling to our “rights” OR always be the one who bends and accommodates. We lose flexibility when we establish arbitrary rules. This means we must also feel that we’re worthy of our space, needs and wants and that they matter as much as our partner’s. As much as, not more than.

Of course, balance in relationships is a constantly moving target. That’s one of the great things about a relationship—being aware of the other person’s needs and supporting him, and having your own needs supported in turn. Learning how to perform this balancing act is a challenge, but one worth mastering if we want to live happily with another. After 26 years of marriage, I’m still working on it.

How do you create win-win situations in your life?

Domestic diplomacy

Domestic Diplomacy

January 23, 2013

Photo courtesy Rodrigo Valladares

Though most of us are not formally known as diplomats, many of us learn to be experts at domestic diplomacy, and the sorts of complex negotiations we find ourselves in can require a lot of patience. Here’s Dan Gerber, who lives in California, showing us some of that patience. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]


When you are angry it’s your gentle self
I love until that’s who you are.
In any case, I can’t love this anger any more
than I can warm my heart with ice.
I go on loving your smile
till it finds its way back to your face.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Dan Gerber. In 2012, Copper Canyon Press will publish Dan Gerber’s Sailing Through Cassiopeia. Poem reprinted by permission of Dan Gerber. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

25th Anniversary

That's a Quarter of a Century

January 18, 2013

Yesterday I started my day with a workout, then cleaned our master bath and went grocery shopping. It sounds like an average Thursday—and it was, except for the fact that it was our 25th wedding anniversary.

My husband and I celebrated the day by exchanging cards and small gifts, then going to see Les Miserables, a movie we’ve looked forward to since we first saw the trailer months ago. Does that sound unromantic? I admit it’s not a trip to a bed-and-breakfast complete with champagne and chocolates, but we’ve done our fair share of that. After 25 years, we’ve learned that romance is wonderful but it’s not the only thing that keeps a marriage strong. Being honest about needs and wants, putting in the time and effort to keep a home running and income flowing, working together as well as playing together—these things, unromantic as they are, hold a marriage together over the course of a lifetime.  Romance is only the beginning. Marriage is acting loving when you’re not feeling that way, forgiving when you don’t think you can, and finding someone who is willing to do the same for you. Just like happiness is not just about “happy” events.

My husband and I have built a life, a family, a home together, and that’s worth celebrating in small and large ways. Yesterday we celebrated in small ways—with flowers and chocolates and a movie. Later this year, we’re planning a just-the-two-of-us trip (when we finally decide where we want to go) where we’ll have a little more time for romance. I’m looking forward to it.

So, so young...