Conjunctions:24 Critical Mass

Two Poems
Should Something Happen to the Heart
—for H. A.

If you look right here on the graph, you can see that little leap and then the plateau. A bee trying to cross a rural road. The scale is staggering. He or she may put a hand up to the chest. He or she may think she’s just out of breath and think how odd to forget that you’d just been running too fast. 

If the fist quickened within and he’s holding on while something else drowns. Actually, it’s not a single leap, but if you look closely you’ll note an entire flight, how rash, and now it’s a flying creature charging against the lighted window. It’s funny what you notice and how slowly you notice that it stops, while in the movie, someone’s life goes on and they can surely hear you but they don’t turn around. 

We are still not clear about the role of irregularity in the functioning of the human heart. Whether 
or a sudden shift
a slight skip;
you lie awake
an ear just over his chest, you couldn’t count
but he lives through the night anyway
and in the morning he’s fine in fact it seems
a certain chaos reigns as he shifts
in sleep or slips back here again.

But if the gravity of the heart could be properly computed, which is to say, its gravitational pull on the surrounding organs, arteries and vessels with an end to determining finally what orbits it as a strange shadow seen when the hand is held up to the heart as a bright light shined through the body of the subject just before the cardiac seizure begins, just seconds before, before the hand has had time to crawl to the breast like a nursing animal or the fist can slam down on the table and the splinters of glass can release whatever the object is, it is now a flitting impression of a figure fleeing a stifling room. 

In other cases, the left arm begins to ache, the blood like lead where the cry is stuck and as if struck by a sudden thought, the gaze goes black and she thought he was going to say something but when he didn’t she turned away thinking nothing of it. The octopus has three hearts. A bee is lost on a road. It is summer and the children are laughing and screaming on the other side of the lake but they are hidden by the glare of the sun across the water. 

Arrhythmia that marks
but you’ll note
something locked inside the chest, running,
is almost escaping, an autonomous animal intent on erasing though
the human body cannot live
for even a moment without
and if the animal get frightened
by loud noises, for instance shouting or crying, it may find another
home or, even homeless, refuse to return.

Recent studies have shown
shock; her hand up to her mouth
but she couldn’t have
“I clamped my hand to my
I watched him across the room. I think I
He got farther
The base of the regulation of the heartbeat is electrical, though it’s
known that at least six
different conductors can be, must be, may very well be
often a spiral wave
breaks and falls.
A sound far off.
She touched her own
lip as a stranger might touch it if
a stranger could ever touch another like that.

The heart of the adult male is a pound to a pound and a half of roughly shaped like a hand, closed and placed heel down on a table on which a glass of wine sits refracting the early evening light so that a wash of red covers the hand and heads toward the wrist, rising. Once we were alive. It happens when you’re not thinking. The breath that holds itself, no longer asking anything of us. 

Now we study it and it doesn’t hurt anymore. I love ink. It stays right there. It keeps track while the body in the air takes on some new form before it telegrams. We no longer regard the signals as chaotic; rather we consider that their pattern will not be repeated and he’ll go on in the new language until we can no longer see him. He was playing with his child out in back of the house when the child suddenly got enormous and he couldn’t recall the word. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt at all. 



—for J.-P.A.

Make the body speak or say:

Repeat after me:
          the body is composed of coordinates in space
          they must match
          they must break
          you must be able to hear it break

and this is where
I live where
are my hands

And now the body is yours
and you fill it completely
what moves and say here:
          and it moves
let me touch your lip           if it is your and it is
sheer touch but the lip; how far and whose
now are the hands

And this is where and to watch
spinning away at that speed
the impossible the mouth or curve
within a curve what the body does
so certainly know, please

(I think of hands but they move alone
untouched and there’s a clarity to the sight
all over the house it’s not you
but your body that is impossible on a 
running horse on a falling horse)

Or here the body could say: inseparable from
          The body: “Tear me away.” There’s something
white that begins          the limits of attention or to

and begins to turn
                                            what word
the solid bone is
and there, the possible
a smaller curve
          silent and private country
          of the skin           not visible one
refuse to say
Speak now

And all of them were changed. You hear the positions 
shift. Yes here the body could:
          Repeat: Sleep now in my hand, my cupped hands
He drank from the cup of his hands as the water
rand down his body all over his body drowning
his body you could see to the bottom there

When the words are carved directly into the body
we find the memory fundamentally altered
The digits in the musculature
That whisper and the other one,
they overlap they tongue to tongue
They are mine. Your body falls.
Which places it in space.
What makes a body real is its falling.

Where the body could say:
          here the marriage of skin
          to internal skin here it binds
Walk here. Stand. Turn.
What the body would

cry of a different animal
random material
of a single limb
of a limb as if it lived
this life too.

And here the body is burned into the background

          The corporeal sense of the very
          Felt upon the chest; an impression just on
          the sternum, something moves

but the body does it anyway, every day
a thousand times a day
You are leaning in the doorway
You are leaning down to pick up
something falling.

When you wake up from hypnogogic state 
because a sound in a dark room and you can’t place
the room and you think of every room you’ve ever
known and it is not this room.

Cole Swensen's latest books include a collection of poetry, Art in Time (Nightboat Books), and a volume of critical essays, Noise that Stays Noise (University of Michigan Press). She has won the Iowa Poetry Prize, the SF State Poetry Center Book Award, and the National Poetry Series and has been a finalist for the National Book Award. Also a translator, she divides her time between Paris and Providence, Rhode Island.