by Annelyse Gelman
I couldn’t remember whether the chambers of the heart
were atria or ventricles. I looked it up. They’re both.
The atrium brings the blood in, gestures to the coat
rack, pours a glass of red wine. Then out, out through
the swollen sodden gills, lub dub, all best to the wife
and kids. Missing you, there’s some muscle I can’t un-
tense. It’s not even a vagina muscle. It’s my heart.
I was thinking the heart’s chambers are made of cells
which are made of chambers, but then I remembered
muscle cells are really more like those rolls of cookie dough
you slice and throw in the oven, all discrete strands, maybe
string cheese would have been a better metaphor but it’s
too late now, I’ve already made it about cookies.
If you don’t like cookies then you can go fuck yourself.
It turns out heart cells aren’t like normal muscle cells.
They’ve only got one nucleus, and they spend all their lives
making sure they keep living. Under duress, their walls
thicken. I’m pretty sure someone grew them in a petri dish
and all the cells began to beat in synchrony, the tiniest
dubstep concert ever. Cardiomyocytes can grow but once
they die you’re totally screwed. I didn’t even want to drop
the name cardiomyocyte. There’s a joke about monogamy in all this
somewhere. I will find it. I’ll tell it to you and you’ll
laugh and I’ll keep tensing up my heart because if I don’t
I’ll die and this love poem will have been for nothing.
Annelyse Gelman is a California Arts Scholar, the inaugural poet-in-residence at UCSD’s Brain Observatory, and recipient of the 2013 Mary Barnard Academy of American Poets Prize and the 2013 Lavinia Winter Fellowship. She has new work in Hobart, The Destroyer, The Economy, MARY, Australian Book Review, and elsewhere, and is the author of the poetry collection Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone (Write Bloody, 2014). Find her at www.annelysegelman.com.
Editor’s note (Brandon): “Heart” is a lively tour through a subject that Gelman has imbued with ample verve and refreshing humor; I am certain I’ve never been shown cells pulsing like “the tiniest / dubstep concert ever” or imagined a coat rack in the heart’s atrium—the pun on “chamber” a reminder that we named the things around us before the things inside us, that so often it’s easier to seek inspiration from without rather than within. But in fact, “Heart” makes that very search inward its task, through honest introspection and a lack of self-consciousness that makes the poem so endearing and enjoyable. In an age of ironic detachment, the speaker of “Heart” is open and earnest, aware of the stakes of a single poem or a single cell, both which so much resemble those who create them, who “spend all their lives / making sure they keep living.”