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,
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.