JAMES ARTHUR Ode to the Heart

I know it’s the brain, not you,
that loves, or fails to love.
You don’t turn cold over time;
you don’t grow fonder.

But if I needed reminding
of what I have in common
with the ibis or the snail,
the narwhal or the tiger,
I could slip my hand
inside my shirt and feel you
at my core, a clockwork fist
clenching and unclenching,
lumping out your truth,
survive, survive, survive.

These valentines that at best
approximate your form—
you’re blind to them, and to
the star-crossed lovers who
only speak their lines
and die. You don’t care
whether poems rhyme;
whether poets of yesteryear
used up the mountains
and trademarked the sea;
you’re indifferent to poetry.

At times, mid-conversation,
I feel you inside me, poised
for flight—a prehistoric
bird, hungry to prey
and ravage. Other times
I think you’re talking to me
from your cage, instructing me:
if I know what I’m doing,
I’m not doing it right.


Canadian-American poet James Arthur is the author of The Suicide’s Son (Véhicule Press 2019) and Charms Against Lightning (Copper Canyon Press, 2012.) His poems have also appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The New York Review of Books, The American Poetry Review, The New Republic, and The London Review of Books. He has received the Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Scholarship, a Hodder Fellowship, a Stegner Fellowship, a Discovery/The Nation Prize, a Fulbright Scholarship to Northern Ireland, and a Visiting Fellowship at Exeter College, Oxford. Arthur lives in Baltimore, where he teaches in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.