by Annie Rachele Lanzillotto
I am having elective surgery today. Heart removal. Cardiectomy. “It’s routine,” the cardiectologist says, “simpler even than removing a breast.” Swap my heart for a ten thousand volt transformer equivalent to the size it takes to heat a small house. This will easily supply an appropriately alternating current for my height and weight.
When I first locked eyes with the woman to whom I lost my birth heart, I felt as though I had never looked into a mirror before when, seeing her for the first time, I saw, myself. Everything blackened except the umbilicus of light that linked my gut to her heart directly. The periphery darkened. I lost details that before that moment framed my life. The light brought up only crucial factors — the Caravaggian knife blade and the saved lamb’s eye, the knife blade’s edge of light, the angel shouting, “No! Abraham No!”
Electrons already spinning in their shells, electrons like birds on their heading, intent, suddenly accelerated, jumped, changed configurations. I heard my name as it was released from her mouth and words, a string of glib remarks coming from mine. I wondered what it was I’d said. The air, so sweet as it leaves her, carried on the shoulders of her words! I scoffed at the world keeping time. My heart was a still life: the rose opened calmly from its center, the peach filled the hollow of a pewter bowl, the heart knocked at the gate, chomped at the bit, the angel shouted, “Open the gates!” My life in a single glance, -ruins. And just when I was getting on track! Ma dov’è questo Cupido!? Un propio assassino! Where is this Cupid? Fateful assassin, with patient wings, perfect aim, untimely smile. Cupid, show thyself!
The surgeon’s office was filled with antique brown and blue glass medicine vials. As he examined me he listened to my whole story. “I was just walking by her office unawares,” I began. He warmed the stethoscope in his hands and pressed my chest.
“I want to tell you of the heart and its distant cousin the brain,” he said, “and how life is a balance of both ecstasy and management.” After the initial examination was over, I contemplated these words as I opened the door to walk out of his office. “Oh and one more thing,” he said as an afterthought, “if the pain doesn’t go away I’d get it the hell out of there.” This last sawed-off comment washed away my hesitation. I decided at once to go through with the surgery.
The coordinates of the heart span the fourth to eighth intercostal space, just left of the midclavicular line. The top of the heart can be easily palpated between the fourth and fifth rib. Situated in the mediastinum, the heart is tilted forward and to the left like a gentleman in a white suit nodding his assent at an auction, calmly, decisively, with utter assurance, sans souci; without worry. Cardiac electromagnetic ions pass easily through the intercostal musculature when face to face with the beloved. The soul, having found a resting branch, emits messages it has carried about for lifetimes. Each cell on its north-south axis reorients. About face! Hydrogen with its positive charge, hup-two hup-two, pivots, rotates, faces its mark, follows the soul on tack. Ahoy! Oxygen slaps the surface of the heart. Oxygen floods the dilating cell walls. Intracellular adhesion lets go.
“It’s no wonder you could not stand, it’s a wonder your skin continued to contain you at all,” the doctor reassured me, “your cells were literally floating on air.”
The ache in the upper left quadrant of my heart is the releasing of light in waves. An equal amount of light the heart gives off as blood. Perhaps she’d thought I had some malady; I’d leaned against the nearest wall. I’d felt exuberance and disorientation and for the first time, -completely at home. In her presence I had to obey gravity without question. I approached the ground as in prayer. A bell rang the pitch of my soul. The muezzin climbed the minaret and alone I kneeled, listening. Where could I go and at what hour, to hear her name being called through the streets by any voice but my own?
Cupid’s singular decisive arrow approaches on a diagonal trajectory, finds the targeted heart, enters along the anterior surface of the right auricle and splits the heart thoroughly. The exit wound is posterior to the left ventricle. A small ice cold pain. The sensation of being maimed indicates its length and position. I walked down the hallway unawares when she glanced up at me, an assailant with cavalier hands holding two white sheets of paper up over her desk. Ionic bonds with the force of ten horses pulled me toward her. I do not remember the moment before or where I was heading or why. Thoughts, years of study, -gone. Expertise, theory, all forgotten.
The heart is not like its distant cousin the brain. The heart knows no such hiding. The heart is a panting dog doing its zhikr. The heart knows only one name. The heart is a dictator, the ruling elite, and I, -its subject. Her name was rendered in striations of ventricular muscle. Cardiac cells carry the rhythm and cantor unto themselves. Each cell of the heart beats autonomously. Each cell holds the sacred meter, contracts, conducts the charge, chants the syllables of the name of the beloved. This orchestration is accomplished through specialized remote stations which pass the impulse across the great surface of the heart. The soul recorded this entry in the brain, “Mark this woman.” The soul tapped a simple code to the brain, “This love. For life. Stay close.”
It was no use to walk away though I did. A year later I found myself standing there as my heart emptied and filled and the building burned down around me. How I longed to see behind the surreptitious countenance she prepared for the common world. The fire between us ravaged the room. Flames punched the windows out. Wind took fire up and into the sky. The building collapsed. Still I stood, where her glance had not yet retracted, but extended outward for miles, pulsating from her eyes.
The doctor went back to the beginning, how the heart begins to grow. The fetal heart, shaped like a horseshoe, lines up young heart cells in two rows facing each other. Cardiac mesenchyme grow toward each other and fuse. It’s a square dance from the start. A space in the center of this heart-loop remains open until the moment of birth. Less than a three week rehearsal process in-utero, and the whole heart is off-book and on-queue, each cell beating. The placenta is a pressurized cabin which breathes for the fetus. When the umbilicus is cut, the pressure plummets, capsizing the placenta, and the lungs, great parachutes that they are, snap into action and catch air for the first time. The foramen ovale, the hole in the fetal heart, at this moment, seals. Of all organs, the vertebrate heart shows the most organizational variation within a species. Each heart is distinct, and for a hollow organ, this is rare. Homosapiens hearts share a basic configuration; four chambers, an ascending aortic arch, the superior vena cava, and two blood flows; pulmonary and systemic. Blood to the lungs is a local delivery. The right ventricle, with its thin walls, can handle this matter all on its own. The toes, brain and all the rest however, are left to the mightily thick walled left ventricle. Seven quarts of heterogeneous proteinaceous sanguine oxygen transport suffusion, commonly known as blood, deliver two hundred and eighty six trillion atoms of oxygen per red blood cell per minute to over six billion human souls at a time. All this in a standing mammal, such as a woman alone at her desk with two white sheets of paper in her hands.
I asked him of this heart, and no other.
“The constant repetition of her name,” he said, “combined with the absence of her presence, increases the left ventricular ejection quotient. In time, this will supercede the arterial resistance pressure.”
I must keep near her. I dissuade myself from what I heard myself say, “I cannot live without her,” but nothing is closer to the truth. Her absence, in waves, ascends my heart rung by fateful rung. I have no recourse. First he will remove the marrow from my bones. The beginnings of blood are mined here. He will suction out the long bones easily, the femur and the tibia. He goes in at the hip and through the tops of the shoulders with a retraction calibrated syringe and just for good measure, the posterior iliac crest. Marrow is soft like butter, not quite liquid, but soft enough to be responsive to a pressurized cable, somewhat like crude oil. Marrow production occurs in the interior hollow of the bone. This is the pith of me. This is where I must change my life. Here and nowhere else. Here is the cause and consumption, her name pumped out faster than I can imagine, from the core of my bones and carried on red wings to each and every cell. We will start the procedure here. If only I had caught it early, fell down prostrate at first glance and not gotten up, let them find me, blood halted in a temporary pool. If only I had rushed to the emergency clinic, but even then, the arrow had gone too deep to be removed. Her name was enlodged in the heart. Still, there was a ten percent chance they could have numbed the heart, caught it early before it spread, perhaps pulled out of the heart, her name; a slow steel spiral. But even so, the current debate rests with ventricular function, ejection quotient, cavity capacity and systolic volume. If only she would have consented, her heart could also have been removed and placed together with mine where they could beat together in perpetuity, at sea level, in a silo kept at regulated temperatures, safe from the course of our human actions. Then we could both get on with our lives as before. Mitral gills develop in vitro, the heart adapts to breathe on its own.
As it stands now, my heart will be fed images of the beloved by a digital brain. My new transformer I will recharge daily at a communal station. It will keep perfect time. When my heart has put in its allotted years of loving her, it will be sent to the sun. No furnace is strong enough to dispose of the completed heart. The sun has been opened. The heart, once free, sprouts wings. Gravity has never been a condition of the heart. Once the heart is near enough, it floats effortlessly. The completed heart ascends to the sun, the fraction of the sun where only completed hearts go.
Upright I bear my heart to the horizon. Boastful, ostentatious, I lift my heart up off the damp and curling ground in this awkward homoerectus scaffold. I deem myself above the wet beating frog, though my heart has longed to be free from this evolutionarily superior platformed cage, and to beat on a cold wet stone out in the open sun. A hot frog on a cold wet stone in the open sun. They have prepped me already for surgery. I have eaten nothing. Drunk nothing. Kissed no one. Thought only of her.