What Goes On

Stephen Dunn

After the affair and the moving out,
after the destructive revivifying passion,
we watched her life quiet
into a new one, her lover more and more
on its periphery. She spent many nights
alone, happy for the narcosis
of the television. When she got cancer
she kept it to herself until she couldn't
keep it from anyone. The chemo debilitated
and saved her, and one day
her husband asked her to come back —
his wife, who after all had only fallen
in love as anyone might
who hadn't been in love in a while —
and he held her, so different now,
so thin, her hair just partially
grown back. He held her like a new woman
and what she felt
felt almost as good as love had,
and each of them called it love
because precision didn't matter anymore.
And we who'd been part of it,
often rejoicing with one
and consoling the other,
we who had seen her truly alive
and then merely alive,
what could we do but revise
our phone book, our hearts,
offer a little toast to what goes on.
"What Goes On", from What Goes On by Stephen Dunn. Copyright © 2009 by Stephen Dunn. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

Poems by This Author

Charlotte Brontė in Leeds Point by Stephen Dunn
From her window marshland stretched for miles.
Here and Now by Stephen Dunn
There are words
Mrs. Cavendish and the Dancer by Stephen Dunn
Mrs. Cavendish desired the man in the fedora
The Kiss by Stephen Dunn
How many years I must have yearned
The Routine Things Around the House by Stephen Dunn
When Mother died

Further Reading

Poems about Cheating and Infidelity
"To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage"
by Robert Lowell
Evangelize Your Love
by Jillian Weise
Good Night
by Wilhelm Müller