Sarah Vincent


This poem is a sestina

in which I say the word fuck.

Shocking, I know, because pretty

girls like me are supposed to be clean

mouthed pristine and otherwise perfect,

An angel rapture-ready and made of wood.


When in my youth I expressed myself, men would

always chastise me. I lived my life by sestina

rules, strictly within the lines, F-A-E-B-D-C in perfect

fear of infraction, of one slipped out “fuck!”

to ruin the restrictive diet of my scrubbed clean

soul, purged of all its feeling, starved into being pretty.


Like moth to flame, purity always comes back to pretty,

a weaponized saving of face, hysteric: honey-would-

you-cross-your-legs (shrill) and keep-your-language-clean-

young-lady, because it’s beneath you, unworthy of a sestina,

and you know that Catholics don’t say fuck—

or have you forgotten? We’re abstinence-only, a perfect


facsimile of God’s predestined plan: our perfect

education in ignorance. It’s white lace picture-pretty,

this illusion of goodness, but the shame burns like all fuck.

My hands shake with wanting that veil of virtue, wishing it would

be enough to be pure, ribbon-bound beautiful and sestina-

flawless, but inescapable truth: this isn’t a heart made clean.


I escape this bear-trap culture; with rabid teeth I’ve chewed clean

through bone and sinew, cornered desperation born of a perfect

fear of death, marrow on my tongue like the lines of a sestina.

Purity is only a white lace lie, a phantom fiction I trash like my pretty

pink razors, sprawling on the subway, brawling with men who would

harass me, reclaiming my God-given right to a heartfelt ‘fuck’—


In the spaces between breaths, in the vulgarity of fuck,

I’ve built a chapel to my freedom: the good clean

burn of honest living, the raw-plank pine wood

scent of swearing when you mean it, imperfect

and unshaved, unbound from their pretty

restrictions that choke this sestina


before it would say its first fucking words: this poem is a sestina

in which I say the word fuck and it’s shocking, I know, not pretty,

not clean-mouthed, but honest and ugly and otherwise perfect.