Usually, the 'other woman' is villainized in literature as she is in real life. The scarlet-letter wearing 'homewrecker' or moral-less temptress. But look, in this poem, Anne Sexton, has given her (or more accurately herself - she is speaking here from experience we know) a voice of compassion.
In this poem, the other woman is self-aware and selfless; she knows she has to let go of her lover and do what is right by him - ie, send him back to his wife - regardless of how much this hurts her. She knows his wife is better for him than she could ever be, describing her as 'solid', 'all there', 'a monument' - whereas she, the fleeting fling, has been only 'momentary', 'a luxury', 'a watercolour' that washes off.
How very selfless and self-aware this is. Not to mention brave. No signs of jealousy or resentment, just - love. And some beautiful lines therein.
For my Lover, Returning to His Wife - Anne Sexton
She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.
She has always been there, my darling.
She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.
Let's face it, I have been momentary.
A luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.
She is more than that. She is your have to have,
has grown you your practical your tropical growth.
This is not an experiment. She is all harmony.
She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy,
has placed wild flowers at the window at breakfast,
sat by the potter's wheel at midday,
set forth three children under the moon,
three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo,
done this with her legs spread out
in the terrible months in the chapel.
If you glance up, the children are there
like delicate balloons resting on the ceiling.
She has also carried each one down the hall
after supper, their heads privately bent,
two legs protesting, person to person,
her face flushed with a song and their little sleep.
I give you back your heart.
I give you permission -
for the fuse inside her, throbbing
angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her
and the burying of her wound -
for the burying of her small red wound alive -
for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,
for the drunken sailor who waits in her left pulse,
for the mother's knee, for the stocking,
for the garter belt, for the call -
the curious call
when you will burrow in arms and breasts
and tug at the orange ribbon in her hair
and answer the call, the curious call.
She is so naked and singular
She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.
As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.