815: My Mother Talks to Her Son About Her Heart

815: My Mother Talks to Her Son About Her Heart

815: My Mother Talks to Her Son About Her Heart


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

I marvel at our capacity to love each other, beyond artificial categories and social boundaries. I am awed by how we fill in the gaps for each other. I hope you, like me, have been the beneficiary of the many decent people walking this earth. I hope you have encountered people whose smile is broad as a boulevard when you walk into a room, who never judge. I hope you have big-hearted people in your life who make you laugh, until laughing and crying are indistinguishable, the folks who love you when you find it difficult to praise yourself, who call you cousin, sister, brother, auntie, uncle, when, in fact, you share no DNA at all. Those whose compassion knows no boundaries, who exhibit selflessness, who check in on you, unbidden.

The people who know the love we receive as children at home is just a starter kit for the love that needs to manifest in the world, people whose kindnesses resonate over time in ways they will never witness, people who drive miles and show up at hospitals, children’s games, or holiday gatherings. Who send long letters just because, whose gift-giving needs no special occasion, who take you dancing when you are feeling glum and alone, who, upon meeting for the first time, find you across a room and talk as if you are the most interesting person on the planet, then follow up afterwards for coffee or dinner, who have not an ounce of competition, jealousy, or envy in them. They are people who volunteer and donate time in the service of other human beings, whose humanity belongs to some order of angels, who would hate it if you called them an angel, who are effusive and loud with their feelings, especially the ones they have for you.

The speaker in today’s poem is an adoptive parent who, despite her own wavering health, pronounces a profound and abiding love that models for me the kind of unselfish and humane existence I long to enact in my own relationships.

My Mother Talks to Her Son About Her Heart
by Kerrin McCadden

So what. So what that you grew
inside of someone else—
it doesn't mean you aren't in here now, 
in here, right here. Oh, my heart—what's in here 
is not all my own anymore, anyway.
There is Teflon, and stitching—other people's hands 
have been in here. By this I mean to tell you 
there is room. There is a house in here 
I had hoped to fill. I saved clothes forever 
waiting for more babies. So, I wanted you.
I always wanted you. A heart has four rooms.
You are one son. There is room.
When I was young and wanting to bring you home, 
they found the hole in my heart and patched it.
I grow older and the outside door fails, 
and so I get a new one.
In the lumberyard of the heart, the materials 
are strange, Teflon, like I said, for the hole 
and a valve from a cow to seal the doorway.
Over and over, I shore this place up.
Steady, old girl, I say to my heart, 
and I call in its ticks to the doctor.
I love her, like I love you, like I have always 
loved you. She calls me back and reads my stats.
I call your sister and tell her the score, 
that I am always winning another day. Steady, steady
ticks the pacemaker. I keep a good house. You know that.
These days, I keep my heart like a summer cottage.
The light is bright and warm. I won't speak 
of anything else. You forget, you forget all the time.
You are supposed to come home. You are supposed to know 
these things. You are supposed to know which door 
to knock on, that I will open it.

“My Mother Talks To Her Son About Her Heart” by Kerrin McCadden from AMERICAN WAKE © 2021 Kerrin McCadden. Used by permission of Black Sparrow Press.