Commander Heartbreak and the heavy heart

I am a heavy heart
to carry,
which is why I hang it up on people
for a while,
like a coat I can just take off
when winter melts
(if winter ever does melt
at all; but it’s nice to pretend).
I am a hungry heart to carry
and the carrying does get lonesome,
so I take my ungainly, heavy heart and rest it
in people’s laps,
a cumbersome
and weirdly fragile thing.

I lay it
in people’s open palms
saying, “be careful, it’s not much
but it’s all I have, and all
I am:
lead and blood and ugliness
and a million butterflies”;
saying, “you don’t have to touch it” —
like it’s a lizard or a naked fledgling bird
or some other unsettling animal
(which it is) —
“but if you do, have a care
because it bruises easy
and you might not want
your fingertips forever printed
in purples and blues.”

It’s all the same to me,
one mark more or less:
I carry each plum stain
like epaulettes.
I have never known how not to.
Touch me, I shudder–
(a million million butterflies)
Know me, I bruise–
(a naked bird, ugly and hungry-squalling)
Leave me, I nod,
because there is a reason
I have such stunning epaulettes:
I’m the colonel of too-much,
the general of not-enough,
I am Commander Heartbreak–
my battalion long dispatched;
and I can’t win this war on my own terms,
because I’m the saboteur,
I’m the traitor, the deserter.

You can’t love a hungry thing,
but I always end up asking,

I ‘m a heavy heart to carry,
but I offer
it and my heartfelt apologies
for ever loading someone with its weight:
that’s all I can do.
I don’t just give it up
to anyone, you see,
but these shoulders get tired
and they set my body shaking,
hands and eyes both aching,
as like calls out to like,
and my heart’s an aching thing.

So take me, if you will,
with a grain of salt
or twelve or twenty:
all my lead and blood and butterflies,
my ugly lizard heart;
this flightless baby bird
with its candor
and its squalor
and its bone-deep cold and hunger.
I’ll let you touch it,
and you can leave your mark:
five fingerprints in pretty blue-green shades.
But if you tire, don’t throw it to the ground,
for I’m Commander Heartbreak,
and my firing squad has
never missed a shot:
they all go smack right through me,
front and center.

‘Enemy down’, I say, and feel the joke of it,
for you can’t love a hungry thing,
but you can’t kill it either.

(And oh, I know my heart,
so I know it is alive
because I feel it,
its shape pulsing and scrubbed raw:
it’s familiar and well-worn
and heavy, heavy, heavy,
wrapped around my neck.)


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