C. Dale Young

The heart flickered within the chest

and generated heat, a tiny version of the sun

placed in the center of the chest by God.

And therein, we find the first fabrication.

The second? That the heart was the seat

of a man’s soul. So strong was this belief

that Galen insisted the heart was

most important among organs, detailed how

tiny pores in the septum of the heart

allowed blood to seep from one side to the other.

So adamant was Galen that centuries later

clear-eyed Da Vinci and even Vesalius

chose to depict these pores despite the fact

neither one observed them. Sometimes

belief overrides truth. In their filthy journals,

the early missionaries recorded the way

Aztec priests ripped the hearts of men and women

out after cutting through their ribs in a single slice.

But this cannot be true. The ribs are a better armor

than many realize. The priests made a quick slice

from the umbilicus up and through the diaphragm

to reveal the beating heart at the bottom of the chest,

visualizing it clearly before extracting it.

Once removed, they kept the heart

while discarding the body, the feeble thing

tumbling down the steps of their pyramids.

When a patient tells me her heart hurts, I know

she is not having physical pain. I have studied

figuration almost as much as I have studied the heart.

The heart longs, flutters like a bird, and even sings.

She says her heart hurts so much it brings tears

to her eyes. And I nod to acknowledge her truth.

What else can I do? I have not held my beloved

in my arms as he gasped and died. You see,

her husband had heart failure, fluid filling his chest

more quickly than the medicines could help remove it.

He drowned. On land and breathing air, his heart

failed him and he drowned. And when my patient

tells me she kept her husband’s heart, kept the

bloated heart that failed him in a box lined with

red velvet befitting a king, red velvet trimmed with

white rabbit fur, more than a small part of me believes her.


about the author