With my headphones on,
I can hear my heartbeat like it's someone else's,
And in that second, I imagine a hole between my breasts,
My heart escaping like a winged thing,
finding a home in some other girl,
nestling between her ribs.
Now, she is the one who misses you,
and everyone she's loved, and lost
somehow, like a key she dropped in plain sight,
a button that fell, soundless.
It is her feet that wander snowy streets,
hunting a crocus, a robin,
some ancient sign that the hard earth lives.
It is she who cannot sleep,
who settles and unsettles,
her tongue that can't form the right words,
her fingers that can't write them.
While my body waits here,
Today's poem is a contribution from my friend Rebecca Foerg-Spittel, who has contributed on this site before. Today, she rightly gets the spotlight. The poem, fittingly titled Escape, is an imaginative exercise in displacing heartbreak, in trying to free oneself from hurt.
The poem begins with an image of self-isolation. Headphones, besides playing music, can act as a shield against the outside world, blocking out its noises, and blocking other people. I know some people who often wear headphones in public, not because they are listening to music, but because they don't want anyone to approach them. It works. The headphones, to the narrator, allow her to hear her own heartbeat. Now begins the imaginative flight.
Imaginative flight is the right phrase too, for she imagines her heart escaping from a hole in her chest, "like a winged thing" and taking up residency "in some other girl, nestling between her ribs." This new owner of the heart, the anonymous girl to which the narrator's heart flew, now she is the one saddled with the narrator's emotional burdens. "Now, she is the one who misses you" is perhaps the most standout, poignant line. The poem is addressed to an unknown second party, some anonymous love that for whatever reason, is over or never materialized. I think everyone can relate to that. You is both the most and least specific word. It's not that the narrator misses John or Kate or whoever, but it is "you." We can never know who that "you" is, but we all have our own "you" which we can imagine.
Apart from that one line, the heart's new owner now bears the pain and joy of "everyone she's loved, and lost somehow." The way in which she lost them seems maddeningly mundane and commonplace, "like a key dropped in plain sight" or "a button that fell, soundless" and unnoticed, presumably. It's so easy for people to fall in or out of our lives.
The anxious wandering of the next stanza, the constant searching of "snowy streets" for some "ancient sign that the hard earth lives" is the search for hope, which the narrator has abdicated. It's no longer her problem. She is no longer "the one who cannot sleep" and finds herself unable to communicate, either vocally or in writing. While wearing her headphones, the narrator is just a body. She is an "emptied safe." I love that image in the last line. Her body is emptied of heart, safe from emotional travail, but if we ignore that punctuation, she is an "emptied safe." That metaphor is dead on. What value are we without our heart? We've lost value, the richness and riches of life, the emotional struggle, love, removed. Without our hearts, we are just empty safes. Sure, we're safe from being robbed (heartbreak), but that makes us valueless.