The Heart Is Hard to Find

By: Paul Hostovsky

When I got cancer I got a gun.
Because my father had cancer.
And he didn’t have a gun.
And he didn’t have a choice
but to let the doctors shake their heads
over the mutilated remnant
of his life–which they had mutilated
in their vain attempts to save it.
First they cut him open and took some things out,
and then they moved some other things around
so he had to shit in a bag after that.
This is no way to live, he said before he died.
He died when I was a kid,
and now that I have kids myself
I wonder: if my father had a gun
and if he had the balls–if one morning
when my mother was at work and I was at school
he got out of bed and in his gray bathrobe climbed
the little hill with the overgrown rock garden
that was our backyard
and sat down on a rock, just sat there
for a long time with the gun in his hand,
a long time being of course relative–
half a minute is an unbearably long time
if you’re holding your hand over a flame–
thinking, perhaps, about me and my mother,
or perhaps just thinking about whether
to put the gun in his mouth or to his temple
or to his heart–because the heart would be less messy
but the heart is also hard to find–
feeling around for it with his left hand
on the left side of his chest, listening with his palm
for his own heartbeat, finding it,
then with his right hand
pointing the gun between the fingers
of his left hand over his heart,
taking aim like that and then
fucking doing it pulling the trigger killing himself
in his own backyard because
this is no way to live–
I am wondering now, if he had died like that,
would I ever have forgiven him?


Paul Hostovsky's poems have won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net Awards, the FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize, and have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer's Almanac, and the Best American Poetry blog. He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter.

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