THE HEART THAT LIES OUTSIDE THE BODY
Christopher Wall born on Aug. 19, 1975, is the longest known survivor of the condition known as ectopia cordis.... The mortality rate is high, with most patients not living beyond 48 hours.
--Guinness World Records
I know people want to touch it,
like I'm some pregnant woman
or one of those cut-open cows
with a porthole in its side.
As soon as I could talk, I said
aorta, pulmonary artery, vena cava.
These words hold my life in place.
I learned how to have fun with it,
dress it up like a ventriloquist's dummy,
throw my voice into the fleshy lump.
I memorized "The Tell-Tale Heart"
and chased my cousins around the yard
shouting, "It grew quicker and quicker
and louder and louder every instant!"
I've had to explain myself so often,
ectopia cordis, ectopia cordis,
ectopia cordis, ectopia cordis,
that once I totally lost it and hit a man
for asking. And, of course, considering
my condition, he forgave me.
Now people don't bother to ask,
or if they do, I say it feels
just fine. In fact, I've lived
so long the doctors say I'll die
like everyone else. I have dreams
that it fills with air, floats away.
I don't know what that means.
THE COLLECTOR: A SELF-PORTRAIT IN CLOVER
George J. Kaminski has single-handedly collected 72,938 four-leaf clovers since 1995. A total of 13,383 were collected from within the 5-acre prison yard, during his recreation time at the State Correctional Institution, Somerset, Pennsylvania, and a further 59,545 were collected from the prison yard at the State Prison in Houtzdale, Pennsylvania.
—Guinness World Records
I didn't know what I was looking for
until I found it, deviant weed defying
its trifoliate name, splaying its four green lobes
toward the fortuitous sky.
When I first bent down to take it,
distracted by flower's scent, by the siren-spread
of grass singing sweetly to lay my body, lay
my body down, I almost lost it.
I know the secret of searching for the square
in a sea of triangles, and I'm so good now
that it hardly feels like luck anymore.
Walking this field, they call out my name.
Each leaflet, I've been told, has meaning:
father, son, holy spirit, and when a fourth is found,
grace of God. Whoever I am, whatever I've done,
I remember only the scale of my life's
inescapable past. Beneath this tree I've looked
thirteen thousand times, and thirteen thousand
times I've wished for a knife to carve
into its lonely trunk the letters of a name:
my own, first letter curving like a sickle cell,
hook of the middle, and then letter of my last,
branched like the tree itself.
Returning to the places I know they flourish,
I take everything, I take them all, I take
whatever I can lay my hands on. A man
here tells me he can calculate my chances,
multiply the acreage of the yard, the ratio
of abnormal growth, degree of shade,
and hours in my day. But I'm not ready
to be told how lucky I still might become.
These numbers mean nothing to me.
I want only to be surprised again
by the prolific strangeness of this earth,
to be released each day to find goodness
which, small as it is, grows four-fold.
Ashrita Furman has set over 70 Guinness World Records, including 16 hours of continuous applause for his teacher, Sri Chinmoy.
Sixteen hours I clapped my hands
while standing in downtown Manhattan,
struck skin blazing in tribute
to audience and performer becoming one.
While standing in downtown Manhattan
to honor the teacher who showed me
how audience and performer become one,
I let mind end its dance with the body.
In honor of the teacher who showed me
how to hold a brick for one hundred miles,
I let mind end its dance with the body,
I let my red hands speak in flame.
To hold a brick for one hundred miles
I had to forget what I carried.
I let my red hands speak in flame:
We are empty. We are full of light.
I had to forget what I carried
and how much I did not want to believe
we could be empty or full of light.
While my teacher waited, I held on.
I did not want to believe
I could break through the mind's red curtain.
My teacher waited as I held on
to the brick that weighed me down.
Could I break through the red curtain?
Could I give up my name,
that brick? What weighed me down
was more than hands could carry.
I give up. My name,
no longer my own, my weight,
more than hands could carry,
this noise, I make for my teacher.
No longer my own, I wait,
struck by skin's blazing tribute,
blessed noise made for my teacher.
Sixteen straight hours I clap my hands.
INSOMNIACS IN LOVE
We ride the shadows down, like bored teenagers
at an amusement park, feigning surprise as into the fog
and gaping mouth of the old fun house we go again.
Closing our eyes, we beg the mind to play tricks, to spill
before us some new and frightful monstrosity.
We stroll the maze of mirrors, unable to get lost.
The mechanisms creak, the papier-mâché ghosts hang
from strings so visible they make us howl.
That crone in the corner, her wig is on crooked.
There is nothing but a chunk of dry ice in her cauldron.
We know each twist and turn, the pattern of screams
on the recorded tape, gone scratchy and warped.
In the dim light, I blow kisses to my favorite zombie,
you shake hands with the skeleton, and so it goes
all night, elbowing each other out of dreams,
exit sign glaring as we lurch hand in hand into the sun,
making almost enough noise to wake the dead.