The heart, or Heart, is a constant metaphor in our lives, a fact we forget, let become a real part of our understanding of relationships and love. The heart, physical organ, pumps the blood to the brain and the body that walks around, these parts become The Heart. You get this. But what Amy Berkowitz has done in Listen to Her Heart is bring that to the forefront, the acknowledgement that the Heart is merely a metaphor. Beyond simply waving the flag of recognition though, Berkowitz excels at harnessing The Heart’s power, picking it up like a torch and running into the depths of her poetics with it.
My heart was a mandarin
Then my heart was an orange peel
The book extends the metaphor, throws more metaphors atop the metaphor, in a way that is remarkably fresh and poignant. Littered with white space, references to music (the acknowledgements mention how the author’s mom told her after a break-up, “At least now you’ll understand all those sad songs on the radio.”), and back-and-forth between ‘his/her heart,’ ‘your heart,’ and ‘the heart,’ with the occasional, early-on ‘my heart,’ this book stretches like a scanning of the radio, stopping, only for an instant at a time, a survey of all these sad songs. It’s like Berkowitz is looking at the unidentified singers and their Hearts, taking the way those Hearts behave and using a new metaphor to make them part of this living, relating world.
Her heart was up and listening to the Byrds
While everybody else was still asleep
And that ability to push the same button but find a slight way to make it new and relatable, like great heartbreak songs, is where Berkowitz truly shines. At times, it’s simple—“My heart is a stolen car/My heart is an empty bar.” Other times, it reaches for the good—“His heart was like a really good salad bar/You could taste the earthy mushrooms in his hugs.” Then, there are the moments when it, The Heart, the metaphor, swells so big, it becomes its own journey—“Her heart was like a kayak rental place/Every time I saw her I shivered with the notion/That we could float away from the city/On a borrowed boat/For only twenty dollars.” But each and every time, Berkowitz tries to hit a note that is both heart-touching and Heart-creating, The Heart being engulfed and engulfing in our everyday lives.
His heart was hungry, like our hearts all are