Friday, March 30, 2018

Celebrate life -- BILLIONS of heartbeats

     I've been thinking a lot about last weekend's March for Our Lives and now it is the Easter weekend -- and these events have led me also to think about  the heart and to reflect on this poem by Pennsylvania poet Gary Fincke entitled "The Billion Heartbeats of the Mammal."

The Billion Heartbeats of the Mammal     by Gary Fincke 

     Feel this," my father says, guiding my hand
     To the simple braille of his pacemaker.
     "Sixty," he tells me, "over and over
     Like a clock," and I mention the billion
     heartbeats of the mammal, how the lifespan
     Can be rough-guessed by the 800 beats
     Per minute of the shrew, the 200
     Of the house cat, speeding through their billion
     In three years, in twelve. How slowly we act,
     According to our pets. How we are stone   
     To the frantic insects. "The hurry-up
     To nowhere," he says, working out the math,
     Busy with wiping down linoleum
     The way he swirled a mop through locker rooms
     Before striding the push broom up and down
     The grain of gym sweep, repeating the moves
     Of twenty kinds of cleaning between ten
     And six-thirty in the high school I used
     Between eight and three-fifteen. He might have
     Been following the Peterson Method
     For care, learning the neat lines and ovals
     Of my mother, who wrote to me, the day
     She died, a perfectly scripted letter,
     Pages of open vowels so nothing
     She said could be misread. And even now,
     In the attic, inside her black notebooks
     Stacked and banded, her carefully copied
     Familiar quotes, the good advice
     Of the writing exercise dating back
     To a hundred lines of ovals, fifty
     Of the properly slanted line. Penciled
     Pages of strict, block printing, the two-space
     Capitals, the touch of the tall letters
     To the roof of lines, my father finding
     By multiplication and division,
     The thirty years of the human, how he is
     Closing in on three billion while I am
     Nearing two. How we are the exception
     To the heartbeat system, taking so long
     To come of age we have time to practice
     The Peterson Method for memory,
     Preserve these things to open up and read. 

Fincke's "The Billion Heartbeats . . ." first appeared in The American Scholar (Autumn 2000) and I found it at this source -- and reproduce it here with the poet's permission.  For more by Fincke, here is a link to "Hearts," a long and thoughtful prose poem that also involves a bit of math, and here is a link to postings of his work in this blog.

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