The Amenities

By Heather McHugh b. 1948 Heather McHugh
I owe you an explanation.
My first memory isn’t your own
of an empty box. My babyhood cabinets held   
a countlessness of cakes, my backyard
rotted into apple glut, windfalls of
money-tree, mouthfuls of fib.

At puberty I liked the locks,
I was the one who made them fast.   
The yelling in our hallways was about
lost money, or lost love, but not   
lost life. Or so I see it now:   
in those days I romanticized   
a risk (I thought I’d die   
in the alcoholic automobile, die
at the hands of nerveless dentistry). Small hearts
were printed in the checkbook; when my parents called me   
dear, they meant expensive.

Where were you in all that time? Out looking for   
your father’s body? Making for your mother’s room?   
I got my A’s in English, civics,
sweetness and light; you got black eyes, and F’s,   
and nowhere fast. By 1967 when we met   
(if you could call it making an acquaintance,   
rape) I was a mal-adjusted gush, a sucker for
placebos. Walking home from Central Square, I came to have   
the good girl’s petty dread: the woman

to whose yard you dragged me might
detect us, and be furious. More than anything else   
I wanted no one mad at me. (Propriety,
or was it property, I thought
to guard: myself I gave away.)

And as for you, you had the shakes,   
were barely seventeen yourself, too raw   
to get it up (I said don’t be afraid,
afraid of what might happen if you failed).
And afterwards, in one of those moments
it’s hard to tell (funny from fatal) you did
a terrible civility: you told me

thanks. I’ll never forget
that moment all my life.
It wasn’t until then, as you
were sheathing it to run,

I saw the knife.

Heather McHugh, “The Amenities” from Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993. Copyright © 1994 by Heather McHugh. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

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

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Poet Heather McHugh b. 1948

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Crime & Punishment, The Body, Youth, Living, Nature, Social Commentaries

 Heather  McHugh

Biography

Poet Heather McHugh’s work is noted for its rhetorical gestures, sharp puns and interest in the materials of language itself—her self-described determination is “to follow every surge of language, every scrap and flotsam.” Describing her work in the Boston Review, poet and critic Richard Howard alleged that “most of McHugh’s poems end in a spurt, as they proceed in a slather, of just such astonishment as is bestowed—afforded—by . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Crime & Punishment, The Body, Youth, Living, Nature, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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