like Shelley’s, waterlogged, calcified,
a heart that refused to burn on the beach near Viareggio,
even when mourners gathered
driftwood to feed the flames.
A friend finally fished it
from ashes, eventually gave it to his late wife.
Mary enclosed it in silk, wrapped it in one of his poems,
“Adonais,” stowed it in her writing case,
carried it with her nearly everywhere she went,
remaindered on the earth 30 more years,
by which time that vital organ had composed
its last encomium in swirls of dust.
Your heart wouldn’t end up pumping itself nearly dry
in Greece, like Byron’s, after multiple bloodlettings,
sepsis setting in from unsterile instruments.
Your heart wouldn’t find itself six feet under in America,
bankrupt, bereft, like your brother’s, or be immolated
near the kitchen fireplace, like your sweetheart’s mother,
her skirts grazing flame, the one who nursed you
like a real mother
before you left England.
Instead, in a coffin-sized room
off the Piazza di Spagna, it would pitter
out, flutter like a bird’s
broken wing. Your heart would be buried at last
in the cemetery for heretics, per Roman law,
before dawn. A tombstone with no name engraved.
My father’s heart runs on batteries,
tiny charges to keep the horses galloping,
galloping toward the eventual, inevitable
cliff. More than once, a surgery and a reprieve.
Though he’s more than double the age you were,
how reckless the speed seems, how merciless.
Your heart troubled you, pained
by “blue devils” from an early age. When doctors
cut you open after, saw your lungs “destroyed,”
filled with blood, it was pronounced a miracle
you’d managed so long, as if you’d been breathing
underwater, slowly drowning.
Until you couldn’t anymore,
you carried your heart everywhere you went
in its silken shroud—poem-wrapped—
in the box of your scarlet-lined ribs.
Dayna Patterson is the author of Titania in Yellow (Porkbelly Press, 2019) and If Mother Braids a Waterfall (Signature Books, 2020). Her creative work has appeared recently in AGNI, Passages North, and POETRY, among others. She is the founding editor-in-chief of Psaltery & Lyre and a co-editor of Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry.