Dunn's poem describes the choreography of married couples after an argument. The narrative voice considers how silence is imposed, then broken and how two people eventually come together after an unpleasant exchange of words. There are, according to the speaker, unspoken rules and rituals. First, a long silence permeates: after all, "whoever spoke first would lose something." In this household drama there is meaning to the clanging of dishes, sleeping arrangements, and accidental touching.

Eventually, one or the other is careless, spontaneously and shamelessly breaking the Yalta-like stalemate with an observation about something ordinary such as a "cardinal on the bird seeder." An accidental comment secures a truce, bringing the couple together in sex, a "knot untying itself."


The poem insightfully describes nuances of a marriage that are recognized immediately by most readers. It is useful in discussions about marriage, about relationships, about communication. Suggestion: pair with Long Term and He/She by Stephen Dunn (see this database) and selected poems by Sharon Olds; also with Home Burial by Robert Frost (see this database).

Primary Source

Local Time


William Morrow: Quill

Place Published

New York