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To My Heart as I Go Along

I'm sorry you feel lonely.
You are hidden, all right, but you are very lively.
You give a rat-a-tat-tat to the plainest music.
Do you see--of course you see nothing--I'll make you aware--
I mean, how do impressions get down to you, unequal-equal heart, anyway?
My nerves send them down. And my brain gives the nerves
Their perfect instructions.
A friend of mine likes women's thighs better than anything.
What do you think, heart? I do notice you are beating like anything!
What about breasts? What about this old sweetheart? Now you are sad,
Well, not exactly--but you give off a slow, thudding beat.
Women make you happy and unhappy, if those words apply. And so do writing and public recognition.
You'd like to be in the body of a well-known and adventurous person,
Wouldn't you, heart? Meanwhile you have been battering along
I think, and not, for the past few moments, paying me much attention.
Fear, a little thud in you reminds me. How about fear?
"Fear is a guest in the villa who heads straight for my room
With a razor!" So we protect each other. On the top of the mountain
Or when I almost fell on the subway tracks, you were there
Learning remedial English to say to me "Watch out!" You spoke to me in Yiddish
At the firemen's ball but I couldn't understand you.
"Look at that horse! Watch out for the oblong! Vanquishing woman over there!"
Do you note that the world has changed since you began
Your tattoo beneath my chest bone? I would guess that, if you do, you don't care.
"Life is pretty simple," you say, "and, besides, I have my work to do.
I am beating out the rhythm for the whole shebang.
Besides which I have to do more than could be guessed at,
Given the so-called 'inner life'--"
Heart, it is good to hear you murmuring. By the way,
When I was a child, my mother told me I had a "heart murmur." Do you remember that?
"I heard of something. I do remember going to the doctor. He would tap on your chest
But was it a murmur he was looking for? You always say I murmur."
I guess that would have been a different kind, beating heart.
Perhaps walking a few miles would do for you today--
Souls-uniting one, deft one, roof one, architectural
Supervisor, your reactions are so quick sometimes and signals!
Little rabbit down there, being in the branches of my blood system, hobo in hiding,
Track worker, ever up to repairs that may need to be made, why does the wind blow?
Whose cameras are clicking in the leaves?
Pit pat pit pat. In North America I first encountered you
By pressing one hand against that part of my chest where I thought you were.
Boom kaboom "That is your heart." Scare. What is it?
Do I need it? Can I harm it? Can I lose it? How must I take care of it? Would something else be better in its place?
What is the good of it? Is there any bad of it? Is it bigger than someone else's is? Are all of them the same? You were pumping away,
Of course. I've become used to you. But you still have your surprises.
Why are you on my left side, for example? "The audience sees it as the right side."
Still it's stage left. You give prestige to that hemisphere of the body.
So, thud, we go along, thud, an example
Of unity and of disunity in one, or, like Ostia Antica
Or Pompeii, a city and not a city, a dump and not a dump,
Present and past together, with thuds for liaison.
I sometimes feel my life too cautious and circumstance-laden
And I want to be incendiary, like you! "No, you don't want that.
I'm too repetitive. My work is too repetitive. Let's talk of something else--
Perhaps of your student days, in Aix-en-Provence, at the Chevaliers' house--"Okay. "One dark light green
Afternoon Tootsie Chevalier came out of her house
To join you as you gained composure on the seat of your bicycle
Saying Je t'ai apporté à manger--d'you think she loved you
Just a little bit or not at all? I know that I was beating
Fairly rapidly during this largely unknown forgotten event. But not by me."
What do you mean, harp? And why do you want to keep gladdening
Me by entertainments? Was this Tootsie you're referring to
The desirable Madeleine? "Aye me, I think so. But what did you do but depart
And cleansed the afternoon. That night when Eddy came home he suspected nothing
Because there was nothing to suspect. I gave you happiness at the stars then
And sexual entertainment for your blood, almost constantly."
You were a great creator and interpreter of dramas, it's true.
And when the political events at Columbia got really hot
You were battering in me when I got up to talk at the meeting
Of old professors to try to dissuade them from going out to stop "the community" from crossing Campus Walk.
"I didn't give you any words, though; you had to think of them yourself."
I said "Stop!" mainly. "What are you thinking of? Et cetera." "I remember
Quieting down but having a few good beats from that afterwards, too."
You were with me in the army when I thought some enemy soldier was moving
Outside my tent--it turned out just to be a duck.
"I remember being excited." You hammered. And now you're hammering once again. "Oh, I have the reactions
All right, but it's you who give them to me, even by this curious talk
We're having today, which rattles me forward,
Sideways and back, till I hardly know how to stop
My agitation." In the days, not too un-recent,
When lost love was the staple of my life, I heard you coming
From smiles, from frowns, from telephone calls away.
Your roar was deafening. What I think now
Is that if I seek you a little bit by swimming, by reading, by traveling,
Even by some mild flirtation, it is to keep you down,
Contented, not saving up all your energy to consume
My whole well-being with a bomb. Heart, you can be frightening!
"Once again I have to tell you: the doer isn't I, it's you."
Liar! Collaborator! Friend! We'll drink some coffee
On this hot afternoon, and see what then.
The night promises to be cooler, and Orion may find Orso in his den
Of brilliance, as beneath my breastbone I found you.

Read Kenneth Koch's interview with Bold Type and his poems "To Jewishness" and "To My Twenties."

Excerpted from New Addresses by Kenneth Koch. Copyrightę 2000 by Kenneth Koch. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.