by Michael Woods
The simultaneous sense of danger and excitement of an adulterer is explored but the emphasis is on the reaction of the person betrayed.
The opening line of this poem is enough to alert us to the unnatural and furtive behaviour of adulterers. It is hardly necessary to 'Wear dark glasses in the rain' except as a means of disguise. The details of deceit are gradually revealed through such details as 'money tucked in the palms' (stanza 2), 'Pay for it in cash' (stanza 6) and 'flowers dumb and explicit on nobody's birthday.' (stanza 9)
The imagery in the first stanza is notable for the way it uses the image of 'what was unhurt / as though through a bruise' effectively conveys the damage caused by betrayal. If we are bruised the undamaged tissue is still visible. The filtering experience is also presented in the concrete description of the abstract noun 'Guilt' as 'A sick green tint.' This could refer to the new view possible through dark glasses which is unnatural or distorted; 'sick' stresses what will unfold as a distasteful catalogue of betrayal, while 'green' connotes both jealousy and bile.
The adulterer is presented as someone intoxicated with the passion and danger of a clandestine relationship whose 'Hands / can…Phone. Open the wine. Wash themselves.' He or she can secretly communicate with the lover, intoxicate him or her and wash away traces of contact. The sexual encounters are presented as 'lethal, thrilling' emphasising the mixture of danger and excitement. Are there other examples of this? Why is the adulterer presented as 'creative'? How s it possible to 'suck a lie with a hole in it'? The key could lie in the overall impression of disguise.
The way time is dealt with is significant. In particular, the image of the 'telltale clock / wiping the hours from its face' indicates the effects of time and the realisation that the marriage is disintegrating, it 'crumbles like a wedding cake'. This simile signals the irreparable breakdown that 'no moon can heal'. The 'ring thrown away in a garden' the symbol of fidelity now signifies its destruction.
Duffy does not shy away from the fact that this relationship is a sexual one. What does the rhythm of the sentence 'Do it do it do it.' (stanza 5) suggest? Compare this with 'more, more' (stanza 3) and again / and again (stanza 8). The final stanza presents the adulterer being confronted. The repetitions emphasise the manner in which shock manifests itself while the short, terse sentences reflect the tension. The dramatic 'You did it. / What. Didn't you. Fuck. Fuck. No.' presents the frustration of the wronged party faced with deliberate evasiveness and then lies. Finally, the linguistic cavilling indicates that the adulterer cannot see the affair in purely sexual terms. 'This is only an abstract noun' could refer directly to the word adultery, an abstract noun. Such a noun names a quality or feeling, something intangible. The point here is that adultery may only be such a word but it can nonetheless have devastating implications, as has been explored throughout the poem.