Language Lesson 1976

By Heather McHugh b. 1948 Heather McHugh
When Americans say a man
takes liberties, they mean

he’s gone too far. In Philadelphia today I saw
a kid on a leash look mom-ward

and announce his fondest wish: one
bicentennial burger, hold

the relish. Hold is forget,
in American.

On the courts of Philadelphia
the rich prepare

to serve, to fault. The language is a game as well,
in which love can mean nothing,

doubletalk mean lie. I’m saying
doubletalk with me. I’m saying

go so far the customs are untold.
Make nothing without words,

and let me be
the one you never hold.

Heather McHugh, “Language Lesson 1976” from Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993. Copyright © 1994 by Heather McHugh.  Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993 (Wesleyan University Press, 1994)

RELATED CONTENT

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Heather McHugh b. 1948

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Love, Realistic & Complicated, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics