## 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
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.