Saturday, 14 February 2009

The Pictures of My Heart

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,


Jessclub7 said...

I don't hate Valentine's day because it is commercialised - if people want to pay twice as much to sit in an average restaurant and pretend they are having a good time, that is their choice - I hate it because it even EXISTS!

The same with mother's and father's day - are we so cash rich and time poor that we can't appreciate things without having a designated day to do so?

I am not one of those people who has ever strived to achieve anything - my lack of ambition/drive is legendary - so I just don't understand those people who don't take time out to enjoy life a bit or just spend quality time doing nothing. And money has never really interested me so I am not into buying gifts to prove love.

But that's probably me being a freak. Or a closeted hippy. Or just my massive slacker self.

mer said...

*clink* here's to being time-rich! i've always found that I am happiest when i have the least junk/crap/fewest material possessions; maybe i'm a hippy too.

or maybe a massive slacker...

either way, I know I -with my 300$/month flat (which, for the record is huge and gorgeous)and my frightening lack of employment and my even more frightening lack of a university degree- I am happier than a great many of my more 'successful' friends.

screw toys; she who dies with the best *stories* wins. so far, i'm kicking their asses in that department.

p.s. how cheap's a Ryan Air flight to Berlin from London these days?

Susan said...

Oh, I loved "The Historian", too!
I don't hate Valentine's Day, I just can't be bothered. One of the funniest places in town is Walgreens on Valentine's Day. Desperate men, willing to buy anything, grabbing all kinds of junk. Too funny.
After 28 1/2 years of marriage, we just don't "do" Valentine's Day. However, my husband will be grilling two of the best steaks... Yummy!

Jessclub7 said...

It surprises even myself that I am so anti-Valentine's when you consider the fact that my parents have been married for 33 years. But I just can't be bothered with it - and neither can they!

Ryanair is excellent - so cheap. They have sent me to Galway, Dublin, Stockholm and soon Amsterdam. Just don't have very high expectations of service!

And I love Berlin - 7 years of learning German will do that to you. I have only been once though -with school when I was 17. And we drove for 28 hours to get there.

I am surprised that I am this coherent after 2 bottles of wine. Pleasantly surprised though!

Are you going to London soon Mer?

Jessclub7 said...

Now, in a massive coincidence, I have just been chatting to someone who regularly flys from London to Berlin.

You can go from London-Stansted to Berlin for 26 quid return on Ryanair - so that's what? 46ish Canadian?

Pretty cheap.

And a very literal answer to a potentially hypothetical question!

Clare said...

I am sort of indifferent about Valentine's Day. I don't love it, I don't hate it, it is just there.

mer said...

@susan - steak... yummm... curse you for making me want steak!

@ jess - wow. 26 quid. okay, that's incredible. i'm coming to the UK in late August for my friend's wedding in Brighton and for some reason it *just* occurred to me that I have absolutely no reason to come back to Canada (one of the wonderful side effects of being stubbornly single).

I'm definitely considering buying a one-way ticket to London and then just crossing the Channel and seeing where fate takes me. It'll be the off-season so I figure it might be cheaper to gallivanting about the continent for a few months. Or years. Or forever. We'll see.

Susan said...

@Mer--I wish you could have joined us for dinner, Joeceff did his usual fantastic job;steak, roasted veggies and yummy rolls (I do love my starch).
Another book you should try is "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks. It sucked me in, just like "The Historian" did (forgive the pun).

Jessclub7 said...

One way it's only a fiver!

I find Europe has gone very expensive since the Euro came in - maybe because we still have the pound and especially at the minute the exchange rate is very poor - pretty much one pound to one Euro.

Brighton is ace. Good party spot.

If you are ever planning on going to Manchester or anywhere nearby give me a shout!

mer said...

@ susan - I'll add it to my list (Library, Ho!)

@ jess - a fiver. ... oh this is just too tempting. okay, moment I get back from NY i am getting three jobs and saving up as much as I can. I'll be going up to Trefriw (in Wales) for a few days and then I'm heading up to Fort William because I want to hike the Great Glen Way. I expect I'll have to go through Manchester either on my way into or out of Wales. Oh. And, if it's in production, I have to go to Cardiff to stalk David Tennant... if he's still there (GRRRRRR)

Susan said...

@Mer--you will have to move quick to stalk David Tennant, he is doing his last season of Dr Who, and it won't even be a full season (sigh). I am such a geek ;)

mer said...

@ susan - I KNOW!!! I'm choked, but I'm praying they'll still have a special to film or something... or I can find out what show he's in in the West End and stalk him there :P

I just watched "Rose" again; I am in such Dr.Who withdrawal...

Jessclub7 said...

I imagine Tennant will be in some sort of West End play by then - such is the way of all thesps nowadays!

One of my housemates will probably know his exact whereabouts as she is borderline obsessed.

mer said...

jess - lovely! hassle free stalking; i'll just pester her when the time comes :P