Poetry is everywhere. It comes to me unexpectedly — like birdsong. It’s so easy to ignore birdsong, but it’s equally easy to tune my ears and begin to distinguish one song from another.
Today, my friend Charity came over, and she had a book (that I immediately started snooping through, of course, and lost track of our conversation and had to apologize). The book is The Geography of Love, a memoir about a marriage, by Glenda Burgess. It begins with this poem, “The Human Heart,” by Campbell McGrath.
We construct it from tin and ambergris and clay,
ochre, graph paper, a funnel
of ghosts, whirlpool
in a downspout full of midsummer rain.
It is, for all its freedom and obstinence,
an artifact of human agency
in its maverick intricacy
its chaos reflected in earthly circumstance,
its appetites mirrored by a hungry world
like the lights of the casino
in the coyote’s eye. Old
as the odor of almonds in the hills around Solano,
filigreed and chancelled with the flavor of blood oranges,
fashioned from moonlight,
yarn, nacre, cordite,
shaped and assembled valve by valve, flange by flange,
and finished with the carnal fire of interstellar dust.
We build the human heart
and lock it in its chest
and hope that what we have made can save us.
I love the words in this song, especially the ones I didn’t recognize immediately: ambergris (an opaque, ash-colored secretion of the sperm whale intestine, usually found floating on the ocean or cast ashore: used in perfumery) and nacre (the pearly internal layer of certain mollusk shells, used to make decorative objects) and cordite (a smokeless explosive powder consisting of nitrocellulose, nitroglycerin, and petrolatum that has been dissolved in acetone, dried, and extruded in cords). These aren’t merely words for color–they are words with implications for the experiences of the human heart.
But my heart isn’t ambergris, nacre or cordite. It’s sunlit azure, shining. And there is a sparrow in it, singing, especially today.