by Susan O’Dell Underwood

At five in the morning,
the lightest touch of arm against arm,
a sleepy gesture so tender—hand silk-hair rubbing,
the clumsy buss of lips against forehead—
then the eyes open, tongues
find their breathy praise in the dark,
every cell aching toward another,
and you live again in skin and sweat,
as if you’re twenty-two and new at this
and not a quarter-century married.

Live up to the upstart ruckus
you show your students every spring.
As you usher wayward bees out the open classroom window,
you point toward the pollinated green,
and wait for their embarrassed giggles:
“See? Look. Everything is having sex.”

The two of you bask with the covers thrown back,
catch your breath in the dawn’s warm April air
through your open bedroom window.
Congratulate yourselves you’ve made a vow
with more than one another.
You’ve joined the wonderful want that never stops.
Why worry that the neighbors might have heard you
doing your part to make the planet turn?

Dare the wish you dare to wish on morning’s last star:
That every creature be mated and warm,
every couple coupled and quickened,
married fresh in the sweet dark dawn,
each one known and knowing.

You can’t for one pulse of your blood believe
the two of you alone
have woken every singing bird in the county.


SUSAN O’DELL UNDERWOOD directs the creative writing program at Carson-Newman University. She and her husband teach but devote as much time as possible to a small publishing company, Sapling Grove Press, which publishes the work of under-served artists, photographers, and writers in Appalachia. Besides two chapbooks (From and Love and Other Hungers), her poems are published in many journals and anthologies, including Oxford AmericanCrab Orchard Review, and most recently TQ14.


Photo: “Nest” by Kirsten Pauli