Modern Marriage and How to Bear It

Corinna McClanahan Schroeder | Poetry

“Of course the necessary moderation should be observed, as with all other good things, and club nights [for the husband] once or twice a week should suffice. On these occasions the wife can have a picnic dinner—always a joy to a woman—with a book propped up before her, can let herself go and let her cook go out.”
—Maud Churton Brady, Modern Marriage and How to Bear It (1909) 

Lying before the fireplace where you want
to lie, you push away your plate of cold meat
and read, looking for what the novelist

does not write. On the page, two men come
to woo the smooth-cheeked widow, her rich
and gouty husband finally dead. The widow invites

the suitors into her drawing-room one at a time,
leaving one man’s ear cocked at the door.
The next night, she brings them both inside

to see what they will do. You suck the grease
from your thumb and turn the page, searching
for your cue—the tremble in the velvet curtains,

a flower’s vulvular head swaying on its stem.
It’s there—in the thick, wet pause—that anything
might be happening. Blood thrums in your

wrists. You’re a good wife. You don’t wish
your husband away any longer than he’s away,
but the widow wants what the widow wants, and you rub

your toes against the carpet’s grain, reading between
each line. There—one man’s fingers like moths
on an arm’s hot skin. One man’s teeth around a button.