American Culture · American Literature · Classic · Collection · Contemporary · Poetry · Sestina

Marilyn Hacker

Sestina

For a week now our bodies have whispered
together, telling each other secrets
you and I would keep. Their language,
harder and more tender than this, wakes
us suddenly in the half dawn, tangled
dragons on their map. They have a plan.

We are stranded travelers who plan
to ditch our bags and walk. The hill wind whispers
danger and rain. We are going different ways. That tangled
thornbush is where the road forks. The secrets
we told on the station bench to keep awake
were lies. I suspect from your choice of language

that you are not speaking your native language.
You will not know about the city plan
tattooed behind my knee. But the skin wakes
up in humming networks, audibly whispers
over the dead wind. Everybody’s secrets
jam the wires. Syllables get tangled

with bus tickets and matchbooks. You tangled
my hair in your fingers and language
split like a black fig. I suck the secrets
off your skin. This isn’t in the plan,
the subcutaneous transmitter whispers.
Be circumspect. What sort of person wakes

up twice in a wrecked car? And we wake
in wary seconds of each other, tangled
damply together. Your cock whispers
inside my thigh that there is language
without memory. Your fingers plan
wet symphonies in my garrulous secret

places. There is nothing secret
in people crying at weddings and singing at wakes;
and when you pack a duffel bag and plan
on the gratuitous, you will still tangle
purpose and habit, more baggage, more language.
It is not accidental what they whisper.

Our bodies whispered under the sheet. Their secret
language will not elude us when we wake
into the tangled light without a plan.

 Marilyn Hacker, Selected Poems 1965-1990. (W. W. Norton & Company; Special Edition edition January 17, 1996)

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