Stephanie Burt

Bleeding Hearts
September 23, 2018 Burt Stephanie


They do not fit their given name. They glow
all day in the sun, without
ever opening up; they are able to retain
their shape and their seal under even the weightiest rain.

They may assert, or believe, that any problem
they notice among themselves must be a low
priority next to the crocuses, always picked first,
or compared to the unwell maple, whose phantom limb,
as recently as last summer, could provide
an afternoon of unreliable shade.
Their practice at holding their own
has made them feel less cultivated or planted
than like something they themselves have made.

Nevertheless it is tough for them to remain
so sanguine; they have arranged
to keep themselves together in almost the same
way they keep other people’s secrets,
even when shaky, at dawn, or nearly asleep.

They dangle and dodge in light wind
as if they were windchimes. They are, also, perennial,
able to outlast frost: they can insist
that the most important fact about them—more
than photosynthesis
or chromosomes, varietals or
Latin names—is just
that they continue to exist.

As well as the overfamiliar valentine,
the thumbnail spade for archaeological digs,
they duplicate the alphabet: a V,
for victory, as well as a sort of X
wherever two or three will overlap.
Their bone-white, surprisingly durable
extensions resemble exclamation marks,
or quills, or claws. Once I heard
them claim that they were eggs,
dragon eggs; one day they would, supposedly, split,
detaching the bloom from the ornamental top,
so that the V-shaped part would drop
to Earth, and low-to-the-ground observers could see
the dragonets discover their feet,
their solarized scales, their yet-to-be-sharpened pairs
of retractable talons. The adults who share, or repeat,
these stories must be, not gardeners, but magicians,
the kind who understand how to escape
from anything, whom you hope
can teach you, too, how to do that.

Some renegade botanists
believe the cultivars can be regrown
from even the slightest cutting: one tendril, one stem.
Other experts think this trick can work
for closely related species, but not for them.

V for vigilance. V for vindication.
After a hailstorm, either V in survived,
in visible and invisible. They are the kind
of students who ought to teach, but will not give lectures,
having determined what parts of their own life cycle
are worth trying to explain
to the outer world, what to reveal from within their clusters
of shoots, their extracellular architecture,
and what belongs, for now, on the inside.

Stephanie Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. In 2012, the New York Times called Burt “one of the most influential poetry critics of [her] generation.” Burt grew up around Washington, DC and earned a BA from Harvard and PhD from Yale. She has published four collections of poems: Advice from the Lights (2017), Belmont (2013), Parallel Play (2006), and Popular Music (1999). Burt’s works of criticism include The Poem is You: 60 Contemporary American Poems and How to Read Them (2016); Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry (2009), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Art of the Sonnet, written with David Mikics (2010); The Forms of Youth: 20th-Century Poetry and Adolescence (2007); Randall Jarrell on W.H. Auden (2005), with Hannah Brooks-Motl; and Randall Jarrell and His Age (2002).