The Affair [poem] by Stephen Dunn

Just when it seemed his marriage had settled
into sleepy comforts and an occasional boost
from a blue pill, he learned what the luckiest
of adulterers come to know: you don’t need
some large dissatisfaction to motivate
an affair, some overarching complaint.
A door would open in a faraway city;
inside, everything felt like its own good reason.
Of course, the lying unnerved and diminished him,
but after awhile it felt strangely humane,
better, he told himself, for all concerned.
He took pride that he gave his divided attention
wholly to whomever he was with.
His wife was his better half by more than half.
His lover was the everything
he allowed himself partially to have.
When their sex turned to love
adultery suddenly felt wrong—the word,
He wanted another word for what they did.
And there were the bones of his marriage
in plain sight, meat on them still.
For a moment he longed for the old days
when there were gods to take offense,
when a man who wanted too much,
would be reduced to size
with a life-long redundancy or thunderbolt.
But, no, there’d be nothing so neat.
It came to a choice, and he chose everything.
He left almost everything behind.

 

Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[Refer: This poem put the editors in mind of David Simpson’s poem “Why I Never Married.”]

Stephen Dunn is the author of seventeen poetry collections, including What Goes On: New and Selected Poems 1995–2009 and, most recently, Lines of Defense. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his collection Different Hours. He has also been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and has received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Richard Stockton College, he lives in Frostburg, Maryland, with his wife, the writer Barbara Hurd. “The Affair” first appeared in The Poetry Review.

Image by Sarah Brideau