I've owned Margaret Atwood's Selected Poetry II for over a decade. I don't know precisely how long, but I picked it up off a dusty bottom bookshelf and read some poems like I'd never read them before, which probably I hadn't. This one I especially liked; maybe those of us who relate can form a duplicitous hearts club. I'd totally join that. In this other book I'm reading, 31 Dates in 31 Days, author Tamra Duricka Johnson questions at one point whether she's dated too much with her heart, and not enough with her head.
I've questioned that at times but I actually think it's the opposite for me, or rather, I'm in my head so much, too much, perhaps, and I keep my heart a lot more guarded than my head, and when I let it out to play I'm not a helicopter mom. I don't monitor its every move, don't monitor much of anything until its about to flatline on me and then I go into triage mode. And yet...not that I like to be in that mode, I try not to seek it out or go toward it, but if that is the risk of having a duplicitous, or perhaps just naive or optimistic or tender heart, I'll always choose that over the more guarded, cautious, practical alternative. I wonder often if my heart already belongs to the children I want to meet so badly I see the whole world through that lens. Ideally I'd have enough heart for, well, I don't know who for, but for more than one person, but I know I have too much for just me. That particular want has been constant, not duplicitous at all, and if I had to pick which quality I most want to pass on, it would be heart over head in an instant. Not heart at the exclusion of head, as 2011 has beaten into my skull (hard to type those words after watching Drive, but, you know, metaphorically), but never head at the exclusion of heart.
Being on the other end of "I don't want" isn't easy, to put it very, very mildly. When you are and there is someone on the "I want" end who is everything you're not it's excruciating, for lack of a more powerful word. It's like a constant blaring ubiquitous reminder, for me, of what I'm not. As much as I don't want to care, I do. A lot. But again, as dark and searing as that is, and trust me, I could fill a paragraph with synonyms for dark and they'd barely touch what it's like, I'd still rather be a heart girl. I'd rather face that, over and over and over, until I learn whatever it is I'm meant to learn from it. So, I am, and the thing I'm most afraid of is my heart not ever wanting again. It's not something I can control, much to my chagrin, though, so there's a lot of forced listening, as Atwood describes, a lot of digging through the layers and layers of darkness, unpacking, unspooling, unraveling them, forcing them into the brightest light rather than keeping them buried so far away I barely know they're there, burrowing, lying in wait. I can live with my...not faulty, exactly, not even untrustworthy, more like recalcitrant, difficult, challenging heart. Maybe it knows things that my head would never even consider.
Would've put this on Tumblr but it insists on putting lines between my text and I can't be bothered to figure out how to fix that, but click here for her gorgeous poem "Variation On The Word Sleep." Sleep plays a role in both poems. I'll take this with me when I get my "heart" tattoo. Still plotting who, what, when, where (I've got why covered), but I'm thinking this place, while I celebrate my birthday.
Oh, and in Selected Poems II you'll also find "The Woman Makes Peace With Her Faulty Heart."
The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart
by Margaret Atwood
I do not mean the symbol
of love, a candy shape
to decorated cakes with,
the heart this 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 struggled against being drowned.
But most hearts say, I want, I want,
I want, I want. My heart
is more duplicitous,
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.