Posted by: heatherinparadise | January 13, 2012

Open Heart Surgery

(for Nancy Ann)

As a little girl, falling down meant
you would appear like magic,
a petite miracle bearing Band-Aids and hugs,
your voice a gentle hymn that calmed me
You’ve skinned your knee,
Show Grandma where it hurts.

Grown up now, I still want to run
at the sight of these tiny butterfly closures
like wishes holding your wound together.
When the doctors split you open,
sawing through muscle and bone,
they saw something no one else, not even you,
has ever seen–your heart,
fluttering helplessly inside
the cage of your chest like
a broken-winged bird;  your heart
with its unchangeable catalogue of events–
that quickened at the birth of your firstborn son
and, years later, tightened
into a fist of misery when he took his own life,
leaving behind only the space
he once occupied,
a paper doll cut from the page
and lost.

Unlike your jagged paperweight of pain,
my rage has rounded edges;
having no memory of him
allows me to hold his death like a gift,
a wordless warning of what not to do to my children.
For you, these unbalanced years
are still just crooked litanies of grief
that cannot comfort you,
his name indelibly written
in the sacred journal of your heart.

And when I stand here before you,
my arms full of flowers and
the weak salve of my love,
wearing green eyes and bone structure you helped create,
I am doing something I learned early from you:

I am saying Grandma, show me where it hurts
as if it was that easy.


  1. Oh Heather, just beautiful!
    I have chills and tears in my eyes.

    • Thank you so much, Elaina. This poem still can make me tear up, too. I wrote this in my head in the hallway of the hospital after seeing my Grandmother after her open heart surgery. I saw her just after she was coming out of the recovery room/anesthesia, and the first thing she said to me was something about my father/her son. It just struck me that even after all those years–about 25 at that point, my father’s suicide was still a raw, fresh wound in her heart. Her pain never really goes away, it just renews itself again and again. This poem wrote itself after I bore witness to that.

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