Poetry: He Talked About His Wife


By Julia Nunnally Duncan


He talked about his wife
who had died,
and he recalled to us
how empty his house in New England was
without her.
When he read aloud “Wild Nights—Wild Nights!,”
his passion was stirred by the words,
and it was easy to fall under the spell of his fervor.
This visiting Yale professor emeritus was strict,
berating those who slept during discussion
or showed no interest in Frost.
But to me he was kind,
striking up a conversation after class,
as if he wanted to be my friend.
He called me Virginia,
and I didn’t mind
and never corrected him
though the name belonged to another girl in class
who preferred to be called Ginger
and would in time take her own life.
Maybe he considered me a diamond in the rough—
a Southern find.
Or perhaps I reminded him of his wife.
He was seventy-one
and had no care for how he dressed,
a moth-eaten wool sweater and unpressed pants
his usual garb those fall days.
But what I’ll remember always is his voice
when he spoke of what he missed
in the empty house.



Julia Nunnally Duncan studied at Warren Wilson College, from which she received a B.A. in English/Education and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. She has fond memories of her classes there, including the one recalled in “He Talked About His Wife.” She lives in Marion, NC, with her husband Steve and their daughter Annie. Her latest book is a poetry collection Barefoot in the Snow.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker