Family Secret

Too many cracks precede 
the spectacular breaking. Each 

story begins in a different dark-
ness. And light: think how it catches

on any surface (pane or 
hinge or keyhole) and 

out of night (out of nothing), 
all at once: a window, 

a door. It’s a metaphor 
(and then it isn’t), darkness. 

When I dream again
it’s the old kitchen—I 

open the oven and sound, 
like ropes of heat, drifts 

out; a shimmering. Familiar 
and confusing. Uncanny,

and then unmistakable: our 
voices, recorded. Playback 

and loop, now—every aching 
word we whispered here.


Copyright © 2023 by Nancy Kuhl. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 12, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

About this Poem

“I’m fascinated by the ways in which secrets are kept and revealed in families, how sometimes what can’t be acknowledged doesn’t drop out of sight so much as it becomes ambient, atmospheric. Coming to recognize the truth, then, is like a trick the eye plays: suddenly it is possible to see what was always there, unrecognized, and the world becomes newly tangible and remarkably uncertain at once, charged with the ordinary strangeness of a dream.”
—Nancy Kuhl