Gwyneth Lewis

Advice on Adultery

The first rule is to pacify the wives
if you’re presented as the golden hope
at the office party. You’re pure of heart,
but know the value of your youthful looks.
Someone comments on your lovely back.
Talk to the women, and avoid the men.

In work they treat you like one of the men
and soon you’re bored with the talk of the wives
who confide in you about this husband’s back,
or that husband’s ulcer. They sincerely hope
you’ll never have children… it ruins your looks.
And did you know David has a dicky heart?

You go to parties with a beating heart,
start an affair with one of the men.
The fact you’ve been taking more care of your looks
doesn’t escape the observant wives
who stare at you sourly. Cross your fingers and hope
that no one’s been talking behind your back.

A trip to the Ladies. On your way back
one of them stops you for a heart to heart.
She hesitates, then expresses the hope
that you won’t take offence, but men will be men,
and a young girl like you, with such striking looks…
She’s heard nasty rumours from some of the wives.

She knows you’re innocent, but the wives,
well, jump to conclusions from the way it looks…
In a rage you resolve she won’t get him back,
despite the pressure from the other wives.
They don’t understand… you’ll stick with the men,
only they are au fait with affairs of the heart.

You put it to him that you’re living in hope.
He grants that you’re beautiful, but looks
aren’t everything. He’s told the men,
who smirk and wink. So now you’re back
to square one, but with a broken heart.
You make your peace with the patient wives.

Don’t give up hope at the knowing looks.
Get your own back, have a change of heart:
Ignore the men, start sleeping with the wives.

— translated from the Welsh by Gwyneth Lewis