Hallmark card lovers, avert your eyes.
This piece by the transcendentally gifted Rebecca Brown is in the Valentine’s Day issue of The Stranger. It’s called “Make Clean Our Heart Within Us,” and it makes me laugh and makes me want to cry and kind of blows me away.
Bleach it. Scrub it. Sandblast or power-wash it, hose it down. Dip it in lye.
Please, be my guest.
Nothing I have tried has worked: It’s crusty, brown, and scabbed. A lump. It has been bit into, chewed up, gnawed on, spat ou—no—wait—not “out.” It can’t get out. It’s stuck inside. Beneath “‘dem bones” and skin and other stuff.
Tear open the skin, dig in and grab and break ‘dem bones and yank. Do it by hand.
Or leave it in and nuke it. I don’t care. I gave up that malarkey long ago.
It’s weirdly shaped. Like an octopus with not enough arms and also twisted with osteoporosis. Or a plastic child’s toy such as a baby shoe, doll, or action figure melted in the sun in that top part of the back of the car, made slowly soft and droopy, and burning, hot—it hurts to touch—until after the sun has gone away and it cools to a hardened blob.
One often thinks of it as red, but maybe it’s not if the blood’s seeped out. Maybe it’s kind of pinkish, even white in some places, almost translucent, as pretty as a pearl, almost. Except for what it is.
Did it look worse when beating? Like a gelatinous clod of something from a grade B horror movie (such as the mushrooms then the people, in Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People , directed by Ishiro Honda, who also did the Godzilla movies, in which, after a storm at sea, a boat washes up on a mysterious island. Shipwrecked together are a wealthy playboy, a professor-psychologist, a famous sexy female singer, an ingenue, a couple of others, and of course the skipper of the ship and his loyal sailor, just like on Gilligan’s Island which debuted on American television the following year. Who giveth unto whom? Who taketh what?), pulsating, throbbing, burbling, its slick or dull or smooth or shiny but certainly pokeable surface expanding and collapsing, expanding and collapsing like miner’s lung or heaving cow or great pink scarlet bubble of Bazooka Joe bubble gum some rowdy kid is just about to pop.
St. Catherine traded hers with God.
I remember seeing a picture of it. She’s standing on the ground and He is hovering in the air a bit above her. He’s on a tasteful little throw rug of a cloud. Her hand is up and out to him. Can I see something red in it? A thing to be got rid of? Or to keep? A thing of want. His hovering hand is open, too, and heading down toward her, but I can’t see if his hand is full or empty. Her hand is white and His is very, very white! As pure and clean and pure and cold as snow.
Has he just given His to her? Does she give hers to Him? Did one or the other do it first? Or did they do it simultaneously? Who opened whom? Each other or themselves? There must have been a lot of blood. What happened to the blood? What happens when the traded heart does not fit in the other’s waiting hole?
Whose great idea was this, anyway?
If it was His, was he just—uh—uh—ribbing her? Not ever thinking she would take Him up on it and—uh—uh—do it literally. But then when she said Yes, she wanted, Yes she would, Oh please, and started clawing at her chest, whatever else was He supposed to do?
Or did she simply stick her hand inside and pull? Like those amazing Filipino healers? They don’t use anesthetics! Tools! Or anything! They rearrange or take the bad things out of you, a secret done with just their hands, and with some poor pathetic miserable fuck who’s desperate with belief. They also only do it to someone else, not to themselves the way St. Catherine did. Though, of course, St. Catherine was not a Filipina, but Italian, from Sienna. I went there to her church one time and saw her mummified head. (It looked like a giant raisin.) The rest of her body is somewhere else. Rome, maybe? I don’t know where the heart is.
Or if there was a tool involved, what tools would they have had back then in Italy? A knife, a sword, a saw? A pair of tongs? Did someone else, not Him, give her a hand? (“Give her a hand…?” Hmmm… Don’t go there.) Was someone passing by who saw her clawing at herself and crying, crying, crying inconsolably because she couldn’t, she just could not do it, could not get it right, she could not break herself, so then did someone (angel? Or Samaritan?) appear to help and if so, was this then a miracle?
Or had she asked a friend to help? Though of whom could one ask a thing like that?
What’s too unclean to be made clean must be removed alone. For superpower Him, this would be easy. But not for her. No, not for her. She had to work at it. This took her long. This took her years. This took her life.
Pull the muscle and meat away like pulling the fat from the rib of a pig. Now, yank it out. Now give it to Him. It may be good, what’s given back, but by the time it does you’re halfway dead.
My hands were never white like hers. And the other’s more than mere unclean; it’s fucking filthy.
To try would render filthier.
At least that’s my excuse.
If this whets your appetite, as it were, for more of Rebecca Brown, check out two of my favorite books of hers: ‘American Romances‘ and for the very brave (you have been warned!) ‘The Dogs‘.
I love Rebecca Brown’s work! Thanks, Lesley, for sharing this. And all those pictures and statues of Jesus with his heart in his hand, the heart surrounded by thorns, with flames shooting out from the top–how I hated those statues. Now, after reading this, I can laugh at those Sacred Hearts and Immaculate Hearts and Bleeding Hearts in a new way, and feel what it is to yank one’s heart out, day by day by day.