My heart lives in my chest My heart lives in my chest. I know it's there. But now the rogue will often disappear, and leave me stranded in my scarecrow mind. It's so unkind. What did I do to make her run away? -- I ask myself each day. What did I do, or what did I do not or just in part, to make my heart pack up and run away? The house inside my chest is empty now -- a vacant lot; the weeds grow wild in there, and still heart not come back. Soon the foundations will be swept away, and underneath the chest's vast empty skies, only the cries that echo from afar, of some strange flapping bird, no longer navigating by a star.
This is a poem from Dorothy Molloy’s second book, Gethsemane Day, published three years after her death in 2014. Her style, sometimes linked to Sylvia Plath, is here remarkable for its intense structures and intentional tension. The universal subject matter — the human heart — and the careful handling of the lines and syntax, the conversational idioms (“It’s so unkind.”) in addition to a gratifying playfulness with sound patterns: taken together, these features deserve close attention, for they help make the poem unforgettable.
There are larger structures of note, too: the extended metaphor, unfolded with surprising consistency and witty variation, is articulated by a thoughtful series of “spaces,” each one opening into the next. The chest, as space, once abandoned by the heart, leaves the poet alone in her . . . mind. The use of the first position of the line to complete the surprising thought is quite effective here and elsewhere in the poem.
The space of the mind: That space opens out onto impersonal distances. So we are in the mind, but where is the mind? In the second section, the “scarecrow mind” observes the empty chest. The devastation unfolds inexorably, once the heart has fled. The metaphor may recall 16th century lyrics, and this intertextuality deepens the spaces of the poem as a new dimension arises: sound.
Now the poem is full of strange cries “that echo from afar.” The space becomes vast. And THIS prepares the reader for the final image: a visual one that arrives as if from afar on the very last line and in one syllable.
That syllable echoes the key word “afar.”
There’s a steadiness here that appeals to me. A steadiness of craft but also a spiritual steadiness. While the heart, for its own reasons (the heart has its own reasons), has fled, the tensions that unfold in the poem — in the mind — do not collapse: they only increase with the final image. The poem is not narcissistic. It does not implode but on the contrary bears the new empty space aware of distances between the empty I and the transcendent star.
Dorothy Molloy’s mind is the true subject of “My heart lives in my chest.”