Emilia Nielsen

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The heart is getting shit-faced. Can’t hold the gaze

of tetchy waitresses, bartenders. Cleans its pocket knife.

Sharpens fork tines. Just because. Tests irony. Stiff upper

lip and downing another round. The heart is doing a bit

of pickling, a bit of self-preservation. Has never been so

wrought. Likes it straight-up, no chaser.




The heart curses brownnosers and hacks. Writing

rhyming verse. Crayoning a do not disturb sign in loopy

cursive. Dotting the “i” with a tiny balloon you-know-what.

The heart sits at sidewalk cafes, tries to check-out passersby.

Can’t be bullied into anything. Marches to the beat of—

self-sufficient. Solo.




Wants to blow. Wants to get off. Shoots down every tin

image in its likeness, every plastic facsimile, every tissue

paper cut-out. Turning tricks. Picking scabs. The heart is

back on crack. It’s schlepping. It’s tonguing scissors.




The heart will stay on the line for the next operator. Will

await further instruction. Needs a convenient paradigm

shift. Wants to take responsibility for its actions. The

heart sings on caffeine. Thinks empowerment.




The heart’s skinny dipping. It’s gone fishing. Glib. Glee.

Its dancing shoes are on. It’ll never be a wallflower. It’s

kicking up dust. Wants to get this party started. The heart

blesses all that populate its corners. It’s on a camp-out.

It’s sleeping under the stars. The heart has never surfaced

more queer.




The heart has more than one day a year to ride, nary

a shirtsleeve in sight. Has a toolbox and a bed to put

its boots under. Wants to nelly. Wants to bite. Enjoys

watching sparks fly. Banged too many nails. A regular

do-it-yourself pipe fitter, an ironworker. Gained five

pounds, lost half an inch. Has done time.




It needs a wet cloth, the cool side of the pillow. Prone

to disease. Constricted, clogged up. The heart is solipsistic.

Writes its own epitaphs, daily. Consumed with its own pain.

Believes it’s some kind of martyr. Soldiers on, whinging.

It’s full of hot air. It won’t blow out. The heart

a lit wick in the body’s hurricane lamp. A stubborn fire.




The heart’s in the back alley licking tin cans. Chasing cars.

Eating garbage. It’s feral. Yowling and yipping. Nipping

heels. Scratching an itch that just won’t go away. Roaming

at dusk. Chasing tail. Looks through windowpanes and only

sees itself. The heart’s on the prowl.




The heart, bravado. The heart, pluck. Going through

the motions, day-to-day. Strives for sheer pleasure

in practicing scales! Reaching for that high C. Tremolo

and honk. Sforzando. So very far from deft. So far from

subtle. A fist crammed into a brass bell.




The heart as bait car. There for the taking. No,

the heart in a stolen van manoeuvring a trunk road.

Thieving. It has taken side roads for so long. Avoiding

gridlock. Bottlenecks. The fast lane. Vehicle: a means

of expression. The heart, inasmuch. The heart, etcetera.

The heart, nevertheless.



Thanks to Leaf Press for granting us permission to reprint “Vernacular Hearts” from Surge Narrows (2013).



Emilia Nielsen’s first book of poetry, Surge Narrows (Leaf Press, 2013), was a finalist for the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Her current work explicates why chronic illnesses are “dissonant disabilities” by turning to contemporary autobiographical poetry published in Canada and the United States. As such, her second book of poetry, Body Work, is forthcoming with Signature Editions in 2018. She currently teaches in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Alberta.

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