Monthly Archives: February 2016

“You’ll Have to Take Me, Too”

Photo by Brad Peacock
Photo by Brad Peacock
















Heart to Heart

by Rita Dove

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel

It doesn’t have
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want
but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,

from American Smooth
W. W. Norton, 2004

It is easy for me to imagine the situation of this poem: The speaker sits down with her beloved for a “heart to heart,” and patiently debunks all of the clichés we have come up with over the years for what is nothing more than a “thick clutch/of muscle” pumping our blood. But that muscle works hard to keep us alive, and it does seem to be a kind of center, the seat of something in us, even if we can’t quite name it. After all, who hasn’t sat across from a lover or loved one and felt an unmistakable warm glow spreading from the chest to the rest of the body? Who hasn’t felt an ache when someone close to us is in pain?

I can’t help but think that, like the brain, there is still so much we don’t know about the heart. In fact, as Marc Ian Barasch points out in Field Notes on the Compassionate Life, “The heart turns out to have its own brain of sorts, some forty thousand neurons and support cells arranged in an intricate architecture resembling that of the cortex. Research indicates that this heart-brain can learn, remember, and sense.” So perhaps, on some level, it can “feel/ pain,/yearning,/regret.” In the end, Dove seems to acknowledge its power as she offers it up to her beloved—”Here,/it’s all yours”—but with one catch: “you’ll have/to take me,/too.” Her final lines imply that love is an all-out, all-or-nothing act of radical acceptance and surrender: You can’t offer your “heart” to someone else unless you’re also willing to give your whole self.

—James Crews