The Woman who could not live with her faulty heart
I do not mean the symbol
of love, a candy shape
to decorate cakes with,
the heart that is supposed
to belong or break;
I mean this lump of muscle
that contracts like a flayed biceps,
purple-blue, with its skin of suet,
its skin of gristle, this isolate,
this caved hermit, unshelled
turtle, this one lungful of blood,
no happy plateful.
All hearts float in their own
deep oceans of no light,
wetblack and glimmering,
their four mouths gulping like fish.
Hearts are said to pound:
this is to be expected, the heart’s
regular struggle against being drowned.
But most hearts say, I want, I want,
I want, I want. My heart
is more duplicitious,
though no twin as I once thought.
It says, I want, I don’t want, I
want, and then a pause.
It forces me to listen,
and at night it is the infra-red
third eye that remains open
while the other two are sleeping
but refuses to say what it has seen.
It is a constant pestering
in my ears, a caught moth, limping drum,
a child’s fist beating
itself against the bedsprings:
I want, I don’t want.
How can one live with such a heart?
Long ago I gave up singing
to it, it will never be satisfied or lulled.
One night I will say to it:
Heart, be still,
and it will.
More Atwood. This one taken from her 1978 collection, Two-Headed Poems.
I’m not that fond of the beginning of this poem, but after the first couple of stanzas, it really takes off. I love the way Atwood captures the faulty rhythm of the woman’s heart in words, and the sudden burst of metaphors in the penultimate stanza (“a caught moth, limping drum. / a child’s fist beating / itself against the bedsprings”).
The poem is also a good illustration of something I alluded to in my last post – Atwood’s talent for myth-making. The Woman with the Faulty Heart is one of those memorable characters who, once you have read about them, will never leave you. You can imagine a whole story about her, perhaps even an entire novel. And it’s Atwood’s ability to conjure up that world of possibilities, the tantalising promise of all the stories that must lie behind this woman, that makes this such a powerful poem.