Ox heart has an honest
beefy quality, lamb’s heart
rubs up against you, said the chef
of the restaurant St. John: Each heart
tastes like the animal that depended
on it. Members of the Fore tribe
in Papua New Guinea contracted kuru
through the practice of eating
dead relatives. Universally fatal,
kuru, which in the language of the tribe means
“trembling with fear,” derives its name
from the trembling that is a symptom
of dying brain tissue. It was also known
as “laughing sickness” because the muscles
of the face constricted in a way that looked
like a smile. Where I
come from, we don’t eat the bodies
of our dead, although my mother
always said It takes two
to tangle. The disease was more
prevalent among women because women ate
the brain of the deceased. The white matter
of the cerebellum, little brain — not to be
confused with the antebellum South
which I kept trying to visit
as a child on the battlefields of
Chancellorsville, Manassas, Bull Run,
Spotsylvania, while my parents
waited, daguerreotypes in the windows
of the car, a scarf hugging my mother’s
head, ends tied beneath her chin, like Mary
at the Lamentation — this what’s the matter
of the cerebellum is called arbor vitae
because in cross section it looks like
a tree: the tree of life, or cross.
Outside, the lower branches
of the arborvitae dip and nod
in the wind like the head
of a black cat in the underbrush, licking
its front paw. I see now
that in fact it is a black cat
waiting to spring and crucify
a sparrow: neither
the cat nor I will ever know
the taste of my mother’s heart.

FROM Tryst (Oberlin College Press, 2010, p. 35)

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