The Pictures of My Heart
by Diana Brebner
When you enter the research
wing there are no signs,
nothing that tells you that here
your body is necessarily
an object of study. There
are no plans to weigh your
soul. No-one gives a damn
(for the purposes of clinical
trials) if you believe in
anything, even yourself.
The drugs have a cardiotoxic
effect and machines will
measure how much you can take.
I wait while my heart fills
up with light. I imagine
angels with their research
wings, beating like test
flight pilots, crashing and
rising up, hitting walls
of despair. The walls are
mounted with hypotheses,
results, and names. There
are little brass plaques
on the doors. What would
you think about if your
heart was pumping glowing
particles? May and Mary
argue with a stubborn computer.
Karen small talks while
Sharon Ann checks the IV.
We wait for the pictures
of my heart. They will
look like dogfighting
planes in a war. Wreckage
and bodies wash up later.
At the heart institute the hearts,
and other companion bodies, all
hold sway. Everyone runs when one
heart stops. Now, in the research
wing, hands are still at my side
(some of them mine) preparing for
an out-of-body experience. In the
silence of panic I become a Hindu
god ornate and many-handed, each
hand a life of its own. One
clambers up the air, temple monkey
in a tree. One lifts, benediction,
to your face. Some hands remain
beside themselves with imagination.
Some are imagination. One turns a
face to light and begins to
speak a sign language, the hands of
girls dancing in the jewels and
headdresses (their gold clothes
fitting like gloves). Some hands
wave good-bye, sadly with hankies.
Some wave swords. One black hand
Reaches out for pictures of
my heart, lifts them to the blue light
and shows them to its companions.
They pass from hand to hand, like
photographs of a birthday, a baby
or a vacation. Every hand stares
in recognition. One by one, like
ribs of a chinese fan, they fall,
folding into my arms, the pictures
splayed in a hand, like old cards.
Polaroid pictures of my heart
are pinned on their white
storyboard. Other pictures
of hearts are sappy valentines
compared to these pointillist
mug shots, strictures for
love’s century patiently
constructed out of dots. The
heart’s shadowed pear,
a city by satellite,
computer imaged memory,
blemished fruit, a sunspot
flare. The colour pictures
of my heart confirm
a world: bizarre, disorderly,
but calm. Terminals show
lurid blots that squirm
pink, orange, red and blue.
Each is a balm, the bright
carnal and carnival of the
expected. Now, when I send
you some message of love,
it won’t be a Parzival call
to amor. A grailed heart’s
not true enough for that.
I think I’ll just call on
your hands for love. I’ll
leave the masque of despair
to the heart: an old dance,
heartbreak, a suitable task.
...just in case anyone ever wondered why I worship my mother and do not expect to ever be her equal in literary talent...
I don't do Valentine's Day. By some small twist of fate, I happen to be one of the biggest saps on the planet. I sometimes feel things so deeply that I become momentarily convinced that my heart is, quite literally, physically, about to burst with joy or sorrow. I love 'love' as a concept and as a act. I love flowers. I LOVE chocolate. I love Jane Austen and summer picnics and romantic winter dates involving skating or Winterlude or the like. And I love those so-sweet-you-want-to-melt couples. I just don't like the holiday. I never have.
It's become quite fashionable to hate the holiday; a kind of bland rebellion against commercialization and 'love' for those who are fed up or embittered or lonely. Most of my exes seem to think that the reason I disagree with the holiday is out of some pseudo-feminist vendetta against 'relationshipiness.' The only problem with this is that if this were the case, it would make me a massive hypocrite. I've only been single for 4 of the last 12 Valentine's Days. This year will make #5. This is actually the first time since I started dating (in 1997) that I have been single on consecutive Valentine's Days. It's always been by choice.
I've only ever had one boyfriend who (bless his soul) respected my request to simply ignore the holiday entirely. All the others have been under the impression that my dislike of the holiday stems from never having had a 'proper' Valentines. They seem to think that they just need to show me what it's supposed to be like, how nice and lovely and romantic it can be... Fact: nothing will ever top 1999, in terms of significance, sweetness or horror. It was my best and worst Valentine's Day. But, even the fact that it was slightly horrific is not why I dislike the holiday.
What irks me is the fact that Western society has such warped priorities that we feel the need to set aside a day to tell those we love that we love them. Surely, the fact that we are too busy to remember most days, is a sign that our priorities require serious reevaluation?
I am reading a wonderful novel by Elizabeth Kostova called 'The Historian.' In it, one of the main characters, Helen, says that '[w]hen there is not much money to be made, no one goes rushing around for it.'
When there is very little money to be made, people are at their leisure to lead quite rich lives (rich in family and friends, at least) - as opposed to rushing around, worrying about how to keep affording the over-abundant lifestyles they've bought into (quite literally, in most cases).
Just as, in a city with an abundance of character, there is no need to set aside time to appreciate that character, in a relationship with an abundance of love, there is no need to set aside a day to venerate that love. Marking anniversaries or setting aside time to nurture a relationship is one thing; putting so much stock in one insignificant Saint Day (which is no longer actually recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, FYI) is a bit ridiculous.
I suppose it's a bit idealistic of me to hope that someday the tradition will fade for lack of necessity but I'm forced to admit, however begrudgingly, that it is likely remain solidly entrenched in the collective psyche of all those too busy trying to get rich to actually live richly.
It is worth mentioning that Helen's observation is not the only passage of 'The Historian' worth quoting: the book is 909 pages long, but absolutely incredible. Imagine, if you will, a less cheesy, more intellectual, better written version of 'The DaVinci Code' -- only about Dracula. The actual Dracula, Vlad Ţepeş (aka Vlad the Impaler), the absolutely horrific fifteenth century ruler of Wallachia (in modern-day Romania). If nothing else, it is proof that a vampire novel can be something other than fantastical, over-romanticized bullocks. It is sleep-with-the-lights-on-after-reading-it good. It seems a bit too real to be straight fiction. Suffice to say, there is a reason Miss Kostova went to Yale...
Now, if you'll excuse me I have a date with Dracula.
As my friends and I say,