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  • Penitente/Physician/My Heart
  • Catherine Strisik

To say my heart in the chapelwith 14 stations of the cross, hand-carved

by the dying Penitente who holds

the hand of the physiciannow     he says               the closest man to god

through     his               eyes his only remaining voice—

is how I remember

my heart breakingthe 5th station

fibered light

elongated I love you

the goingthe gone the going state

at this station’s entry

their spirits without

movement, airstill—

how many—the afternoon humid—how many how many

entries to the station [End Page 129]

how many


before     our     final

cadent cry

chunks of bread are fresh at the altar

—this is not a typical day in the country—my top lip or is it my lowerquivered by the beholden or is it the beheld—

the carver in his woodshop,his casket with the cerulean lining satinwaiting for his body

by the time I reach the Penitente’s 9th station,               my rapid heart beat beat oh

my blood          oh          my pressure droppingme to          the          knees

rapidity     of,     heart       oh,       if I couldgrow my hair longer  if   now   could          bend at the waist grab holdof the wood carver’s hand     because     I     have     fallenhere               in his artistry

physician        when you see me faint-like  even  child-like  in my needsyou say, sit down, bear down, returnto your normal pace maker,

my rapid heartbeat is    not a sign [End Page 130]

what do I savorin this moment ofheartbeat-beat               candlelight what Oh God, my heart is

what harp

in this

do I not understand

not lines of folded skinon   kneecaps beauty  not  the mark leftfrom  childhood  beauty  is  not and  beauty  is

the  momentary   startled   spirit,   minethough   now   I have heart pain a

symptom of   heart

not  before  allowed

though the physician and Imake love oftenwith warnings and rhythms, inarticulate

          grappling my way through     possibilityrug burns on my knees

physician’s fingers deft he says do not move

I tell him

my heart hurtsI have a broken heart I sayand he asks Whobroke your heart [End Page 131]

Concentrate on the flesh of my breasts and notthe flesh of my breasts that defines meas your lover

body wrenched

body wrecked body

unfinished mouthing oh no no no

          bent bodyblinded folded bare distinguishablebody interpretation

baretissue of the breast

I amlying

on his examination table hisdopamine running low he explains, do not move he says as his fingersattach the leads to the exactness of flesh     along my ribs,in order to discover my hearthis fingers countingthe space betweenfollowingthe directional chart     for me as endless

as looking up at the night sky

Don’t talk he whispers     Don’t breathe

the butterfly splats   wingand creamy on my windshieldbetween the Sunport and Tramway my wrist— [End Page 132] delicate-boned-wave oh no no no

to the butterfly’s juices,  its rainbow, the pavementso hot on this last day of Maymy bent     wrist          without fragrance nowto the physician          our marriage

I praythis vertigothese dusty roads        will never end

My ECG recording broken heart normal

does that mean the 11th station?

perhapsthere was a softness I’d heardin the threaded voice that weighted me that day     perhapsmy flesh     that day,       the lack of clouds

I call out Acacia, Adonis, Columbine, Begonia, Anemone

Penitente has died

I break my own heart my own heart my own heart [End Page 133]