Amir Farshad Ebrahimi's photo of two men burying a Palestinian child
Photo by Amir Farshad Ebrahimi (reproduced under a CC Attribution-Share Alike “copyleft” licence)

Dear Todd,

I hope your mother’s heart has settled
& ceased its flutter. I’d like to add
some wish about hearts in general
in this time of rage & sadness,
but I’m not sure poets should perpetuate
such outdated metaphysics about
a thing that turns out to be little more
than an organ, a nest of fat roots
that can be transplanted like a tree
from one body to another, even
across species lines.
I am still agog at this, recalling
my Great Aunt Thera’s pride & wonder
as a former farm girl that she owed
her last years of life to a sacrificial pig.

If there’s a soul, then, I wonder
where it might sit?
I picture a yellow canary flitting
anxiously from perch to perch as
its cage travels deeper into the mine.
I picture the trees our primate bodies
evolved to navigate, their ladders,
their heartwood neither alive
nor clearly dead. I remember
the blossoming branches of a wild
sweet cherry tree one spring,
after an ice storm had toppled it
& a chainsaw had severed the trunk
from the tangle of roots and soil.
Even decapitated, it bloomed with abandon,
it bloomed as if there were no tomorrow:
clouds of white against the brown woods.
The wasps & bees didn’t seem
to know the difference, & surely
their grubs grew just as fat
on that deathless honey.

I have no answers, & am afraid
for those who do. The Aztecs
suffered no shortage of poets, all
wringing their hands at the sweet
ephemerality of life. Their stock
metaphor for a heart was a blossom,
& the chest cavity of a human being
was the sacred ground over which
they fought their wars.
What have we learned?
The Holy Land itself has been vivisected
into slivers that can’t survive in isolation.
Broken sewers on one side of the wall
mean poisoned wells on the other,
& blood spilled in one place
travels who knows how far
through the imperilled veins
of a single subterranean heart.

17 Replies to “Transplant”

  1. So difficult to comment on the run of contemporary events in verse. The best pieces will adopt a sort of passionate detachment that channels anger and grief through image and metaphor not directly related to the specific theme. Which is what this poem does triumphantly.

  2. I wonder what that little girl will bring forth? I just can’t imagine giving anything as beautiful as her to the ground.

    Taken in part, this is the most hopeful, beautiful, transformative view on death I ever felt included in. Thank you. I don’t much like, though, any connection of this beautiful person with broken sewers; that’s hard, and I have to work on that.

    As you write, you have no answers. Somehow your honest writing of that breaks the thing back into the sunshine, the days of play, and redoubles the grief of the living that is lost.

  3. As a parent looking at this photo realize our children are the only things that really matter in our lives. I look around at the world today an wonder what legacy we are leaving for them…..certainly not an ideal one!

  4. Kia ora Dave,
    I, too, sit here a bit stunned and so moved, imagining myself placing my own little boy in the ground and not being able to let go. There are many here I will share this with.

  5. Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting, and welcome to Robb and Jeremy. (Robb, that’s a stunner of a blog you have!)

    I don’t much like, though, any connection of this beautiful person with broken sewers
    I hadn’t thought of that. Good point.

  6. Your wonder-full poem is a fitting tribute to this stunning picture. We usually use the word “stunning” to describe something beautiful, and it is beautiful in its way (the composition, the linked arms, the angelic child — all wrapped up; sad, special delivery in reverse), but it stuns in the true sense of the word.

    All of that jockeying for position, for security (ha!)and space, comes down to this: a child’s death. Many, many deaths.

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  8. Hi, Bee. Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad the poem moved you, and yes, war always does the most damage to children, I think. It’s time we stopped pretending that was merely collateral, a tragic mistake – it’s an inevitable consequence of waging war.

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