The Claim of Speech

for Stanley Cavell

I
 
Must we mean what we say? Stick to it,
Be bound to, chained up beside the house,
 
Teased by boys on bicycles, fireflies,
The seasons as they pass out of reach?
 
We could try meaning nothing, a way
Favored in the brightest corridors
 
By those who pass from life to death through
Halls of learning and replace marriage
 
With justice. To mean nothing is to
Have nothing at heart, to be chained up
 
To the right of and a bit behind
The body: without marriage, justice
 
Prevails as the clenched hand of culture
On the most brutal bridle prevails
 
Against the motion beneath that wants
To claim the hand of culture. Against
 
The Horse in the horse, the Rider in
The rider, the heart beneath the tongue.
 
 
II
 
In the anarchies of the sensuous
Hands the order of love is leaping.
 
In a far corner of the landscape
A lover’s hands leap in the skin’s light,
 
And heroes’ hands lap like tongues on necks
Curved with significance. The horses
 
Stamp and whinny, hint of caprioles
As urgently as our mute souls
 
And it is impossible to mean
Anything but motion. A dispatch
 
From the graceful landscape will arrive:
“He must be told.” Lovers will obey
 
Thus leaving terror and time alone
To fend for themselves. I will obey,
 
Am obeying now, making poems
From chains, leaving the season alone—
 
You must be told (already your horse
Leaps beneath you!) what you meant to say.

Vicki Hearne, "The Claim of Speech" from Tricks of the Light: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2007 by Vicki Hearne.  Reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
Source: Tricks of the Light: New and Selected Poems (The University of Chicago Press, 2007)
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