Poem of the Week | February 04, 2012

This week we’re featuring a poem by Katie Chaple, from her just-out first book Pretty Little Rooms (Press 53). Chaple teaches poetry and writing at the University of West Georgia and edits Terminus Magazine. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Antioch Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Crab Orchard Review, Passages North, Southern Humanities Review, Washington Square, among others. She was the recipient of Southern Humanities Review’s Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award.

Author’s Note:

This poem began with the similarity between “cardiologist” and “cartographer,” which may mostly exist in my own head and/or imagination. My cousin is a resident at Emory University and specializes in matters of the heart—he studies the parts, the chambers. The poem grew out of a conversation with him about some studies, trials he was running. Of course, there is the physical notion and the emotional notion of heart that I’ve tried to bring together here, as well as attempting to push the poem along by moving the personal into a more public sphere. The poem was a joy to write—I chased the idea through it, allowing myself to be playful once I’d made the original connection. I’ve attended many a seminar, many a convention, and pulling such a dry thing into a concept (the emotional idea of “heart”) that is so mysterious and infinite seemed a natural way to define and control it, to reign it in, which is what the poem itself calls for. The conceit, too, of the maps, legends, etc. is another way of providing physicality to the figurative subject matter.

Mapping the Heart:
A Study

The problem
as we’ve unfolded it
is that one cannot know another’s
but only one’s own—(and maybe not even that)—
a point on which we both agree (wholeheartedly),
so let the cardiologist and cartographer confer,
let discipline step in where there is no measure.
Let a methodology be pumped forth.
Show us labs and conventions, bar graphs and percentage;
Powerpoint of mesa and plain, tundra rolling to rainforest;
film of peaks and states, major townships
which bank on tributary, flowing
to delta. Let there be gradations of ruby, red,
salmon trickling to pink—all grades
of elevation and elation.
Participants scribble, eyes squinting for fissures that run
to gorge. There will be definitions. There will be chambers
where fondness dreams and dresses, the strata
where love resides.  Levels must shift, tectonic plates
grate and rise. Where lives lust, but here
where the red beam wavers against a diagram,
where the participants, the lecturers, and just-interested parties
trace the arteries of elevators and hallways back
to their colleagues’ rooms, follow the floorplan
to broom closets and alleyways.
Show them the monitor’s jagged lines,
and before the green height and plunge draws flat,
show them the legend, millimeters to miles, the unfolding
that unfolds a rolling expanse.
Oh, let them find the plain that charts
an opening
where we can all lie down.