long a sacrifice
a stone of the heart.
When I was married, my husband and I practiced the “day late,
dollar short” theory of Valentine’s Day. That is, he would
wait until Feb. 15 came around. Then he’d go down to the local
drugstore in search of the requisite box of Russell Stover
Candies. By then all the red-cellophane hearts had been picked
over. But there were still a few that remained. And they were
slashed down to half their price.
The candy was every bit as fresh, the ribbon every bit as
bright, the cellophane still crackly.
It was expedient. And we were poor. Half the time I was a
student or I was working freelance or I was nursing the babies.
The other half of the time I was doing all three all at once.
This small economizing on the Valentine heart seemed creative,
admirable, a way of subverting cultural expectations—spend
a lot and be romantic on Valentine’s Day—while still getting
to eat the maple creams and raspberry nougats.
It wasn’t till after the divorce that I wondered if that small
savings wasn’t a kind of template for how we had lived our
married lives: economizing on our hearts.
Funny thing is, my older daughter, Madeleine, can remember
her father going to the drugstore the day after Valentine’s
Day. It was a practice he carried over to the custody arrangement.
But he has long since moved out of the area and long since
stopped shopping for the cut-rate heart.
I carry your heart with me(i carry it in
am never without it (anywhere
you go,my dear;and whatever is done
me is your doing,my darling)
The heart is heavy. It’s rough at the edges, bits of dirty
quartz embedded in the strata. If you threw it—hard enough—you
could hurt someone, knock them out or maybe kill them.
It’s a heart of stone, but not like the stone in the Yeats’
My daughter, Linnea, found it for me on a hike one time. She
was about five. She came trotting back to me with it in her
hand, telling me she’d found a heart. I put it in my daypack.
It was worth the weight to carry.
I leave it out on my desk and look at it from time to time.
I think how much a part of the earth it remains, even atop
a stack of books. I think how durable it is. How strong.
time’s my heart? I care,
cherish what I have
of the temporal:
am no longer young
the wind and waters are;
falls away will fall
things bring me to love.
When Linnea was little, she invented something called “heartings”
for Valentine’s Day. Heartings, in their strictest sense,
were Valentine cards that she made for people she really liked.
But heartings were also gestures of the wide-sweeping affection
she tendered—still does—to people she likes. That first year
she spread an indiscriminate number of hugs and love notes
throughout our family and friends, including this one little
boy, Bjorn, from whom she stole a kiss. “I want what I want,”
she gave as her explanation.
What Linnea wants, it seems to me, is a kind of spaciousness
and generosity of affection I have always admired. There is
something to be learned from this kind-hearted kid unafraid
I’ve wondered what her secret is. How can she have such an
unguarded heart? Maybe it’s just that she’s still a kid and
hasn’t had much hurt touch her life. On the other hand, she’s
gone through two divorces, lost her beloved grandmother and
lives a continent’s length away from her dad. That all qualifies
as hurt in my book.
But she seems blithely content to embody Thomas Merton’s sage
maxim: “The only way to make a person worthy of love is by
I want to speak with the blood that lies down
night to sleep inside your heart
In the Franklin Museum in Philadelphia there used to be, maybe
still is, a giant-sized model of the human heart.
It was a spacious and inviting heart, one that you could make
your way through just as if you were a hearty little glob
of hemoglobin doing the serious business of serving the body.
But what I remember most about that heart was how roomy it
was. Though it was designed for kids to walk through, it could
handle the adults, too. If you had to stop and tie your sneaker,
the people in line behind you didn’t have to stop and wait—a
design flaw in an ample heart. You could simply scoot to one
side, tie your shoe and let the other visitors pass.
And so you’d make the trek through the heart certain there
was room for you and certain that your being there was just
exactly where you were supposed to be:
Ducking your head as you streamed out of the vena cava. Then
climbing up and down the little stiles that served as the
bicuspid and tricuspid valves, doing crowd control between
the atria and the ventricles. Then onward you would go, ducking
your head once again as you exited via the aortic semilunar
valves, re-oxygenated, refreshed.
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