Tricia Dearborn – Twenty-four hours in the life of a heart

Profile Dearborn LEP&W ANZ May 2021

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Tricia Dearborn is an award-winning Australian poet, writer and editor. Her latest books are Autobiochemistry (UWA Publishing, 2019), and She Reconsiders Life on the Run (International Poetry Studies Chapbooks, 2019). Her previous poetry collections are The Ringing World and Frankenstein’s Bathtub. Her work has been widely published in literary journals in Australia, as well as internationally and online, and featured in anthologies including The Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry, Contemporary Australian Poetry and Australian Poetry since 1788. She is on the editorial board of Plumwood Mountain, an online journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics, and was a judge of the 2019 University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize. She also writes fiction: ‘The Case of G: A Child Raised by Trains’ won the 2020 Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize. You can find her on Twitter @TriciaDearborn and Facebook

Twenty-four hours in the life of a heart

To see why my heartbeat halts    then bounds, my doctor advises a Holter monitor, a 24-hour ECG. Now I am embraced by wires, in the grip of technology, its cool unbending curiosity, its exhaustive reports. Which can only cover so much. The data won’t include my heart’s inclinations, its headlong joys, its quirks, its history of harms. The heart as cowering rescue dog. The heart as time-lapse lotus flower that opens, glows, when my love’s hand finds mine in the dark.

The monitor hangs at waist height from a cord around my neck. It’s smooth and cold and strange as the knowledge that one day the actions it records will cease. I consider the ways we surveil the body, hoping perhaps to master our fates. I admire the heart’s work, its muscular movement hydraulically shifting what’s needed from a to b, every cell in the body touched by its beneficence, its labour.

Exactly 24 hours later I’m back at pathology being unwired. Angry skin encircles the spots where the seven electrodes were. When I visit my doctor I learn that in the span of a day my heart experienced rare ventricular ectopics 8 only plus couplets and triplets and runs of bigeminy, otherwise sinus rhythm at 77 beats per minute. In other words: normal.

Each day for a week I apply aloe vera squeezed from a leaf to the circular welts. Meanwhile, my heart and the me that surrounds it mark in our separate ways the intervals of ordinary days — occasionally leap, occasionally stumble, then fall back into rhythm and beat on.


you may try to cover the rich soil of your life
with an unassailable veneer

you may wish your life to have
an implacable washable surface

you may try to tuck under this façade
your unsuitable longings, the grief

that haunts you decades after the fact
you may endeavour not to be real

because being real has felt like danger
but life has its own designs

and cares little for yours
like the chart of genetic traits I found

on the ground outside the school
transformed to a paper plane

you may think it within your power to forgo
the worms the rot the foliage the flowers

for the sake of appearances
for the sake of peace

but I answer you with a lawn I saw
on this morning’s walk:

cats will shit on astroturf
plants grow through it

© Tricia Dearborn