How to Dismantle a Heart

Rodney Gomez

My mother used to say the heart makes music, but I've never found the keys. Maybe it's the way I was brought into the world: dragged across a river in the night's quiet breathing, trampling through trash and tired runaways as if tearing a window's curtains. We were barred from entry but repeatedly returned, each time becoming a darker part of a tunnel or a truck bed. The sky was so still the stars flickered like carbide lamps. We told time through the landmarks of the dead like cataphiles—the warren of a little girl’s murder, the wolf’s irrigation pipe. When you see enough unwinding, beating is replaced by the safety of wings. This isn't goodness. The voiceless are never neutral. Bones sway to elegy. Ebony burrows into the earth as a refugee. I grew up, eventually, but the sun was like a cliff with a false bottom: you'd drop and come out the top again. Enough carcasses draped over the dry brush. Enough water towers empty as busted rattles. When you're a child, the heart has a stiff neck and demands to be played. Later, it limps. Before my knees could begin to ache, I crawled to the levee looking for a broken string. Some wayward zil. I stretched my heart over a manhole and drummed it with broken pliers. It wouldn’t even quaver. It snapped back into a seed, dry and shriveled and blank.

More by Rodney Gomez

Story About a Glacier

What I won’t tell you is how I became a flute
and brushed against lips but there was no music.
When the blows came furious as juniper.

There were days when I was a parachute
and the wind was free but kind. I won’t lie
and say there were no such days. There were days

when I curled into hailstone and pretended
it was only breezing outside. Another man’s music.
Eventually the need to unfurl overcame the need

to stay anchored. Tsunami greeted me in its maw.
I have his smell all about me but it dwindles every day.
What I won’t tell you is how I escaped. One day

I met a map at a bar. It pointed to a gash on its head
and said I could get there by becoming someone else.
Most of me was still scrawled on a carpet under a belt.

What was there to lose that I hadn’t already lost?
Alone, in the middle of the night, the road smelled
like freshly sawed mesquite. I wormed my way out.

A buckle still loomed in the background.
And I told myself, there is no gleam.

The Knife

What can you say about the knife that hasn't already been said? It is the same knife today as it was yesterday. Even if the law decided to melt it down, it would still be a knife tomorrow. You can travel back through the history of the knife & discover the America-like violence of its birth, how it carved yokes into brown bodies & how it chose night as its uniform. The knife very quickly discovered skin, blood, & the poor. The knife is an instrument & so takes its identity from the purpose of the hand that uses it. The knife can glide gracefully down a backbone in mimicry of a feather. Or it can leap from one carved island of bone to another. When I was given the knife I pretended to be a survivalist even though I lived in the inner city. The knife melted into milk in my hands & I poured it into the wailing mouth of my baby. It was redelivered into the world & made its way to an open sewer. A woodpecker used the knife to cut down the lone acacia on the block. The tree tumbled & soon it was as if nothing had ever grown there. Except the knife. From a sandy oval in concrete, the knife jutted like a mouse tail. It waited for someone who believed in dynamite.

Loss

Lately I have been a gap.
Moth clouds follow me to bed.
I counted them: twenty, fifty, block, choke.

In the room where I used to sleep
a breath hangs low on the bed
and hoarsens the room.
No one knows where the air is
charged and released into the world,
but it thistles.

This is how breathing fills a house
with family: breathing to draw
the buzzing to its source
and breathing to lacquer a plugged maze.

How a house fully beamed and walled
is not a house, but a husk.
How a life in the span of a few breaths
becomes a clockless thing.