Review: Weighing the Present
When did I last consider my heart,
pay it a little attention, honour
its sixty steadfast years in the dark?
Hardly notice it, my mind focused
on slicing an onion, on what I ought
to have said or done, the story I’m reading
now, Alice Munro, or remembering my dead
aunt Nin’s laugh, those half crowns for ice creams.
Yet all the time it’s working, beating on
constantly, like a god I forget
the existence of, keeping my blood
moving through its thousands of miles
of tunnels, making it still possible for me
to nod off after supper, to wonder
about Water Aid or no longer
postponing phoning my brother,
to nurse a baby grudge, fatten it up.
It’s the size of my fist and weighs no more
than eleven ounces. If I bend back
my wrist, I can see the pulse twitch.
Millions of times. You can do the sums.
That’s stamina for you, dedication.
Old squeezebox of mine, what do you mean
by your quiet insistence? What do you want
beyond the few lengths of the pool I swim
most days for you, and my sensible diet?
I love the opening line of this poem (from Laskey’s 2008 collection The Man Alone: New and Selected Poems) It talks in a normal voice. It is completely natural: ‘When did I last consider my heart…’ – and yet that line, which apparently almost anyone might say, is not something almost anybody would say. With casual grace it tosses out its rhythmic challenge. But you can’t use the word ‘heart’ casually, can you?
Which is why the poem goes on to push hard at that symbol, the way we make that particular organ of the body stand for so much. This is the real thing we are talking about here: ‘the size of my fist’ and weighing ‘no more / than eleven ounces.’ And yet it’s not just that vital muscle. It has to be more because the poet is addressing his heart directly, and as the poem develops the interaction gets more urgent and more personal. At first the heart is an ‘it’ but by the end it’s an old friend: ‘What do you want…?’ Laskey doesn’t answer this question, and I like this too. ‘Offering’ is a poem of delicacy and mischief. It plays with what the reader already knows about hearts, without mentioning love. Not once.
Helena Nelson, North Ohio Review, spring 2011