Heart to Heart

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
It doesn’t have
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
shapely —
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—
but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me, too.

– Rita Dove


The poem is written as a series of negatives, of declarations of what a heart is not, the things it can’t do, or can’t be done with it. It brings up all the metaphors we use in relation to what is after all a bunch of muscle (cardiologists everywhere will do a collective cringe). At the end of it, the narrator sounds like she (?he) is tired of dealing with something that doesn’t meet her expectations, isn’t what it’s made out to be, and in almost-exasperation hands her heart over – with the condition that she be taken, too.
This poem reminds me of a couple of poems we’ve run; Valentine by Carol Duffy, and The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart by Margaret Atwood.
You can read more about Rita Dove here and here. You can hear her reading out some of her poetry here. You can read an interview with her by the Smithsonian about the future of literature.

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