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.
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