Mapping the Heart

Some of my readership are interested in an individual’s creative process. In terms of the process that gets a daily poem posted, it begins with longhand poetry practice. Today, for instance, that happened during the thirty-five minute washing cycle for an eight kilo laundry load. I filled roughly three A4 sheets of notebook in spidery handwriting,which included some crossings out.

But that is really already the second stage. The late Dermot Healey said, in a masterclass I attended many years ago, that all reading is writing, too. It is research and inspiration’s spark. So today’s poem started with a train of thought sparked from reading an article in an old Guardian Saturday Review.

The third stage is when I get to a keyboard, either on my iPad or laptop. Then I edit,  amend, and add. Some days any three stages can be hurried due to outward events and demands on one who has given up on plans. Life laundry, literal laundry, fun stuff coming up can compress and dictate how much time is actually dedicated to the writing process. But, since I began this poem a day lark, I reckon between one and two hours daily is a conservative estimate.

Now, to today. The article, on maps, caught my attention because I love them as things of both beauty and utility. I am of the generation who were good scouts who worked on badges. This was way before GPS, SatNav, and smartphones in a pocketbook. (Even choosing to use the word pocketbook, instead of purse, dates me.) I learned how to navigate foreign cities by reading publications called A-Z(ed)s. I mangled the spines of many editions in more than one city.

Once, a few years back, I was facilitating a workshop in the local prison. It was a very deeply held space, a small group. After lunch I intuited it was worth a risk to ask each of them to draw and write a map of their heart. Now prisons are never hospitable towards vulnerability, so at the end of the session I had them place their maps in large sealed envelopes. I took them home with me until our next session. And when our work was done I gave them the choice of how they could safely be disposed – cast onto water, put on the compost heap, burned in our hearth, flung to the wind.

I grew up Catholic, with all the attendant iconography of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary’s Immaculate Heart. So what then would a map of my heart look like now? As I approach my sixty-second birthday in less than a month, this is what appeared in the notebook in draft form.

Mapping My Heart

Not immaculate exactly,
but neither is it pocked with conspiracy theory.
I am sure it is furred up with plaque.
Everyone develops some armour.
I am afraid that that is just a sad fact.
There’s some scar tissue from sword play.
En garde! As they will say
in oh so many, many ways.

But there is still a flicker and a flame
that burned through to guilt,
incinerating any shame.
Let’s be honest here and speak plain.
There are always scores to settle
if you manage to live so many years.
If not for one’s self, then your allies,
the ones you love regardless and full of regard.
Yes, loyalty is fully incised
right up to the very hilt.
Which can be as bad as it can be good.
One person’s virtue becomes a sin.
It all depends on how it is understood.
A heart can beat glad or sad.
It can be both. Everything else is hiss and hum.

But surely how does it become sacred?
Is it because of the fissure here? And here. And here.
Through the cracks its glimmer beats sear
the sanctuary lamp, its ruby blood glow.
The censor has swung fumigatory.
The heart is, as always, its own offertory.

Copyright 2018 Bee Smith

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