For My Wife | Poem by Wesley McNair

Psychologists must have a word for it, the phenomenon of shifting the focus of sadness from the source of that sadness to something else. Here’s a fine poem on this subject by Penelope Scambly Schott, who lives in Oregon.

A honeymoon. How often does one happen according to the dreams that preceded it? In this poem, Wesley McNair, a poet from Maine, describes a first night of marriage in a tawdry place. But all’s well that ends well.

For My Wife

How were we to know, leaving your two kids

behind in New Hampshire for our honeymoon

at twenty-one, that it was a trick of cheap

hotels in New York City to draw customers

like us inside by displaying a fancy lobby?

Arriving in our fourth-floor room, we found

a bed, a scarred bureau, and a bathroom door

with a cut on one side the exact shape

of the toilet bowl that was in its way

when I closed it. I opened and shut the door,

admiring the fit and despairing of it. You

discovered the initials of lovers carved

on the bureau’s top in a zigzag, breaking heart.

How wrong the place was to us then,

unable to see the portents of our future

that seem so clear now in the naiveté

of the arrangements we made, the hotel’s

disdain for those with little money,

the carving of pain and love. Yet in that room

we pulled the covers over ourselves and lay

our love down, and in this way began our unwise

and persistent and lucky life together.


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 ©2010 by Penelope Scambly Schott, from her most recent book of poems, Crow Mercies, Calyx Books, 2010. Poem first appeared in Arroyo Literary Review, Vol. 2, Spring 2010. Reprinted by permission of Penelope Scambly Schott and the publishers. Introduction copyright © 2012 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.