The pediatric cardiologist sits opposite me: his lap desk, his red and blue markers. If I didn’t know better, I’d think him a schoolboy working up an art project. But before my eyes, again, he draws my son’s heart. Sort of. Not actually. Not his actual heart, but an ideal, an exemplary model. Everything in its place. These hearts are not the heart of my boy, not his, my child’s. That has always been the problem. The cardiologist is drawing arrows now – red going out, blue coming in. And though I think briefly about telling him to stop, about pulling the page from his lap desk to rip in half, I don’t. Whether civil decorum or superstition hold me back, it’s not completely clear.
Instead, I search the scene for metaphor only to come up empty-handed. Heart-sick. Heart-felt. The heart of the matter. Idioms, yes, but not metaphor. You might think that there would be dozens of metaphors to be found for the heart, poetic comparisons that return to this central bit of us. But how to make it pretty? It does not, after all, look like the two-lobed sketch on Valentine’s cards, melded tear drops in crimson. It is more complicated – valves and ventricles getting in the way of eloquent language.
No, the heart is not the moon – the latter at turns an eye, a sickle, half a silver coin – resplendent in metaphor, celestial body that cannot rise or set without bumping into language, poets tripping over themselves, their necks craned skyward to where it hangs, leading its concert of stars. The light that emanates from the heart is not likened to the breath of ripe plums or the fire of life. The heart’s job is steady, caged and bloody. To see the heart’s work, one must hold an elite membership, must be willing to cut and pull back the flesh.
I sit, audience to the cardiologist’s cartooning with its too-real consequences, while the boy, his real heart locked inside, is right now winning at a game of spring-loaded baseball he’s playing against himself in the corner of this very room. He too is bored of the art lesson.
Now the doctor is amending his picture, showing things here or there that shouldn’t be so, and I am close to stopping him, to shouting at him. It wouldn’t be the first time. I think of how despite their linguistic differences, the moon has some things in common with the heart. Like how both can be said to be full; or how, even in this moment, far outside this room, the moon is pulling at the water’s edge and how easy it is to find yourself standing ankle-deep in such waters one minute, and in the next, you are over your head.
Kathryn Petruccelli is a bi-coastal poet and teacher. Her poetry has appeared in Rattle, Word Riot, Enizagam, literarymama.com, and others. Her essay “How to Read This Essay” won San Francisco’s 2015 Litquake essay contest. Kathryn holds a degree in teaching English to Speakers of other languages from the Monterey Institute. She is currently living in western Massachusetts with her husband and two boys.
Did you read How to Love Your Ugly Feet?
Comments will be approved before showing up. We don't allow comments that are disrespectful or personally attack our blog writers.