"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Because It Is My Heart

Lionheart Lily

London 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:
"Heart throb, heart throb, wonder past knowing,
Where did you come from, where are you going?
Each of Henley's stories is governed by at least one deep code or another. In connection with my 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 desert
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]
Or how about the determined villagers in Lisel Mueller's poem, "Moon Fishing," who are advised to
". . . cut out your hearts and bait your hooks
with those dark animals;
what matter you lose your hearts to reel in your dream?

And they fished with their tight, hot hearts . . .
Reading 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.


At the heart of our garden ~ thanks to Gerry!

Next Fortnightly Post
Sunday August 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

1 comment:

  1. Amazing lilies! and the Lionheart Tango could start a new discussion on internet - is it yellow or blue? :-) .