The Catheterized Heart
Contemplate the little betrayals of veins,
the treacheries of arteries,
their willful disruption, how easily the
physical body slides
into dysfunction, then decay that must be
repaired if the body is to live.
Think of the ride in the wheelchair from
the doctor's office,
your purse and book in your lap. Think of
the efficiency of it all
the roster of names, from which your record
is pulled onto the computer,
after the onset of pain in the left side
of the chest, between breast
and collar bone, clavicle playing on your
clavichord with the soft pressure
of brass wedges striking horizontal strings
and the resonating pain
that reminds you of the ephemeral quality
of the casing wherein you take
your habitation. Finally, recall the screen
that shows the catheterized heart.
Suppose yourself to be the body of the world
on the table under the cameras
surrounded by a green clad surgical team,
while life with its double play
of birth and death goes on in the hospital.
This way the world lies within
easy reach of transvenous pacing wires in
case of refractory ventricular arrhythmia.
Oxygen is there, clean air and rhyming resuscitation
epinephrine, atropine, isoproterenol, lidocaine,
euphonic names for help. These miracle
medicines open up the total systemic resistence,
ease the flow of oxygen carrying blood.
(You know this because
once home, you reach to the top shelf, and
peruse the heavy health books,
learn that pressures should be monitored
and the needle kept in the chamber of the
heart as briefly as possible.)
When you suppose yourself to be the body
of the world,
Then you are the eyes and ears, the spirit,
the wordy mouth.
You find yourself loving the sounds of heartbeat.
You fall in love
with medical terms vena cava
which drains the blood from the
upper body and lower body and empties it
into the right atrium of the heart.
The words, atrium of the heart, fill you
as you picture the center room in a Roman
where Vena meets Cava and the air bearing
oxygen floods in,
or an entrance to a church in France before
where the rood screen stands and the alter
waits, and you murmur,
because you like the euphony, Coeur d'Alene
or Coeur de Lion.
Auricle, little ear of circulation, hearing
the murmurs if the mitral valve,
which is after all corruptible, venal, susceptible
to bribery, giving a kickback
of blood with every transaction, calibrate
the terms of resistence between miter
(the liturgical headdress of a Christian
bishop) and miter
(the ceremonial headdress of a Jewish high
priest), both circling around God.
Call yourself Sister of the bleeding heart
emptying into the arteries of
transcontinental rivers, feeding the hungry,
warming the hands and feet
and cunning brains of laid-out patients.
Cry out, "Go ahead,
stick the needle in my heart. I don't care.
I have been drugged
with valium and benadryl and other stupefying
substances, but I know this:
"the needle should be kept in the chamber
as briefly as possible."
If the body of the world lies on the table
under the cameras and lights
surrounded by the green clad surgical team,
and if, in every meaning
of metaphor, you are the body, the blood,
the skin, the living organ
that protects against intrusion; if your
heart is being catheterized, then
you will know where the obstructions are,
where the walls narrow,
whether the Chinese vein receives its proper
the African artery needs a balloon, or the
Pakistanis and the Hindi
have developed an auto-immune disease, whether
to give Eliot's etherized
patient nitroglycerin under the tongue,
and you will have every right to cry,
as the catheter slips into the percutaneos
femoral artery and slithers its snaky
way into the heart, "Don't give way!
A world without a heart is no good at all."
In some respects, the body of the world,
is a modern day specimen
of much repaired technology. Though used,
punctured, stitched together,
its movable parts operate. The car salesman
will kick its tires and swear
the alternator has just been tested, that
the fuel lines are clear, will open
the trunk displaying cargo room for well-packed
luggage. And only you,
the vehicle, will know how desperately you
want it to run, how many
passengers need a ride, the sights there
are still to see the Alhambra,
the pyramids, the Taj Mahal. Only you will
appreciate smaller journeys to come,
another walk in the sand, another laugh,
another good meal. You are the body
of the world, embracing worldly delight
with all the eagerness of a lover,
and the discipline of an actor when the
script is rewritten and the player replaced.
Now, you are back writing verse, wanting
each poem to be a life
(its birth, its growing, its understanding,
its pleasures and its closure.)
When you were the body of the world on the
table, you dreamed
the alphabet, dreamed everything that can
be said in 26 symbols,
recited the continents, the realms, the
rivers: A B C D: Arabia,
Bermuda, China, Dominican Republic, you
stopped at E for eternity,
lingered over J for joy, and L for love,
lovely, lace and lattice, lone and later.
You remembered India, and Mississippi, and
if in your fuzzy state you
faltered, you came back and checked it later
in the dictionary, in the atlas,
in the encyclopedia. You went all the way
to Z, looked at zareba, Zambia
and zebra, read their definitions,
guessed at hidden meanings, mapped locations.
At Z, the end, nearing the end, you thought
of Zeus, the god we no longer know,
zinnia, the lowly flower of many
colors whose leaves turn rusty and brown
at summer's end, and zodiac, the
orderly scheme that represents the passage
of principle planets, the moon and the sun,
and its last definition a complete circuit.
But when you came to zone, you stopped.
The zone of the heart is enclosed in the
and the body is perhaps after all a state
of metaphysics, less physical than we think
making and doing and loving. Your beating
heart mirroring as a hologram does,
the larger body, with its making and doing
and loving and alas, its alphabet of loss
and pain, a heart through which a wire had
been run and rivers invaded. You are left
with the cautionary words of the Merck Manual.
"Pressures should be monitored
continuously and the needle should be kept
in the chamber as briefly as possible."