Lionheart LilyLondon Heart Lily
Lilies as hearts (tulips as lungs). Since last month's Fortnightly post, featuring my professor's advice from long ago -- "listen to your heart, figuratively and literally" -- I've been seeing hearts and hearing heartbeats at every turn. Sure enough, I saw them in the garden over the weekend and heard them a few days ago when I picked up Charley Henley's new book of short stories, The Deep Code.
So many codes structure our existence: computer codes, nuclear codes, Hammurabi's Code, the Fibonacci Sequence, the human genome, our cardiovascular system, and so on and so forth. Naturally, one of the most persistent of all these "deep codes" is the human heartbeat," as in:
recently acquired understanding of rubato and rubatosis, here are a few passages that struck my heart:
1. In "The Golden Horde of Mississippi," Grandma Lucy and Jessica Sue are conflicted over codes of ladylike behavior and funeral etiquette. Grasping her cousin Bobby's cremation urn, Jessica longs to disperse his ashes "back into the system. . . . she wondered about the countless generations bound up in the meat of her own palm. If you sit quiet enough you can hear the flux of your own nervous system, that great collision of billions upon billions of tiny stones" (43).
2. In "Satellite Mother," the teen-aged son carefully follows his father's instructions for aiming a rifle: "So I did what Pop taught me. I closed my eyes. I fell into the rhythm of my heart and lungs. I breathed normal. I breathed easy. Your muscles need the oxygen, and your heart needs to calm down, I heard Pop say. Your heart needs quiet. You need peace to make this shot. . . . I slipped down into the rhythm between the spasms of my heart. I took hold of the jerking muscle in my chest, and I smoothed it out. I let it all go. I breathed deep and when I opened my eyes, my heart was beating at a perfect sixty beats per - minute" (64).
3. In "Cerrito Blanco," young Tessa runs from certain trouble into the calm "cool sanctuary" of [an old] church. . . . Her heartbeat thundered in her chest. It echoed through the silence, as if the whole world throbbed with it." Meanwhile, her father Leonard recalls with despair the dissolution of his marriage to Tessa's mother, Darcy: "It was like his heart had gotten clapped in the door somewhere, and it was still there, stuck and beating and distant, a heart gone to him now and lost forever" (158, 163).
Equally wrenching is the "feeling like cold steel that crept up his guts when he thought about" Darcy's domineering mother. In the story "Pleco Fez," another fractured character shares Leonard's visceral anxiety: "It gave me this cold feeling . . . Like a lump of wet metal moving back and forth in my guts" (153, 118). Both of these passages bring to mind the aching innards described in my previous post, "Longly, Longingly."
But, getting back to hearts, all of the above characters, in their imprecise cosmic pursuits, embody the words written by Stephen Crane and borrowed by Joyce Carol Oates (and me):
In the desertOr how about the determined villagers in Lisel Mueller's poem, "Moon Fishing," who are advised to
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter — bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.” [emphasis added]
". . . cut out your hearts and bait your hooksReading Charley Henley's book, I can't help wishing that each story would last just a little (or a lot!) longer. You too will be drawn into the narratives of these folks, hunkering over their hearts, listening intently to the universe, and living by the deep code.
with those dark animals;
what matter you lose your hearts to reel in your dream?
And they fished with their tight, hot hearts . . . "
At the heart of our garden ~ thanks to Gerry!
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Sunday August 28th
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