The heart is getting shit-faced. Can’t hold the gaze
of tetchy waitresses, bartenders. Cleans its pocket knife.
Sharpens fork tines. Just because. Tests irony. Stiff upper
lip and downing another round. The heart is doing a bit
of pickling, a bit of self-preservation. Has never been so
wrought. Likes it straight-up, no chaser.
The heart curses brownnosers and hacks. Writing
rhyming verse. Crayoning a do not disturb sign in loopy
cursive. Dotting the “i” with a tiny balloon you-know-what.
The heart sits at sidewalk cafes, tries to check-out passersby.
Can’t be bullied into anything. Marches to the beat of—
Wants to blow. Wants to get off. Shoots down every tin
image in its likeness, every plastic facsimile, every tissue
paper cut-out. Turning tricks. Picking scabs. The heart is
back on crack. It’s schlepping. It’s tonguing scissors.
The heart will stay on the line for the next operator. Will
await further instruction. Needs a convenient paradigm
shift. Wants to take responsibility for its actions. The
heart sings on caffeine. Thinks empowerment.
The heart’s skinny dipping. It’s gone fishing. Glib. Glee.
Its dancing shoes are on. It’ll never be a wallflower. It’s
kicking up dust. Wants to get this party started. The heart
blesses all that populate its corners. It’s on a camp-out.
It’s sleeping under the stars. The heart has never surfaced
The heart has more than one day a year to ride, nary
a shirtsleeve in sight. Has a toolbox and a bed to put
its boots under. Wants to nelly. Wants to bite. Enjoys
watching sparks fly. Banged too many nails. A regular
do-it-yourself pipe fitter, an ironworker. Gained five
pounds, lost half an inch. Has done time.
It needs a wet cloth, the cool side of the pillow. Prone
to disease. Constricted, clogged up. The heart is solipsistic.
Writes its own epitaphs, daily. Consumed with its own pain.
Believes it’s some kind of martyr. Soldiers on, whinging.
It’s full of hot air. It won’t blow out. The heart
a lit wick in the body’s hurricane lamp. A stubborn fire.
The heart’s in the back alley licking tin cans. Chasing cars.
Eating garbage. It’s feral. Yowling and yipping. Nipping
heels. Scratching an itch that just won’t go away. Roaming
at dusk. Chasing tail. Looks through windowpanes and only
sees itself. The heart’s on the prowl.
The heart, bravado. The heart, pluck. Going through
the motions, day-to-day. Strives for sheer pleasure
in practicing scales! Reaching for that high C. Tremolo
and honk. Sforzando. So very far from deft. So far from
subtle. A fist crammed into a brass bell.
The heart as bait car. There for the taking. No,
the heart in a stolen van manoeuvring a trunk road.
Thieving. It has taken side roads for so long. Avoiding
gridlock. Bottlenecks. The fast lane. Vehicle: a means
of expression. The heart, inasmuch. The heart, etcetera.
The heart, nevertheless.
Thanks to Leaf Press for granting us permission to reprint “Vernacular Hearts” from Surge Narrows (2013).
Emilia Nielsen’s first book of poetry, Surge Narrows (Leaf Press, 2013), was a finalist for the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Her current work explicates why chronic illnesses are “dissonant disabilities” by turning to contemporary autobiographical poetry published in Canada and the United States. As such, her second book of poetry, Body Work, is forthcoming with Signature Editions in 2018. She currently teaches in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Alberta.