I chose this poem, the last for June, for the way it combines themes at work in other poems featured this month. The central character in “When the Heart Dies, It Dies Entire” is Mars, a mighty racehorse who runs till his heart bursts, and then he is just shunted aside. Mars in his prime reminds me of the horse that is the powerful generative force in Michelle Bitting’s poem “The Goods,” (June 14). The contrast between the romance of the races and how the horses are sometimes cruelly mistreated reminds me of the abyss between war and our memories of it in Maudelle Driskell’s “The Propaganda of Memory” (June 7). Driskell’s poem about fathers and grandfathers ties in with Susan Browne’s “Father’s Day” (June 21), reminding me of  the horrors of war not reported in the photograph and how we neglect our veterans after they have given their all.

Here, Mars runs till his heart bursts; how he is dispensed with afterward, quietly swept off to the side, calls to mind how our society deals with returning veterans and with our aging parents. On a personal note, my father loved the races. Unlucky in life and love, he had an uncanny ability to pick the right horse but never enough cash to lay down for more than a modest payoff. But that didn’t matter—what he was after was the romance, the rush, the horses and riders giving their all, the chance that a long shot might come in. If he were alive today, taking Dad to the races is something I’d have at least considered for Father’s Day. Mars reminds me of him: lassoed and trained for war, then heart-damaged by it for his whole life and remembered after his death by the slimmest of tin markers that, now, rusts over his grave in the rain.

Murchison’s poem is unusual in form—a prose poem without broken lines that also eschews punctuation, using extra spaces in place of periods and commas. The effect is of speed in short bursts and then of abrupt rupture, an enactment in form of the events in the poem. Murchison tells me that the entire poem came to her from having heard the announcer’s line (in italics below) while she was watching the race. What he said struck her in some way, made her pay attention. She found the line by Kurt Brown, now the poem’s title, at a later date.

I like this story and the poem’s unusual form because it makes me think of what a good poem is supposed to do: make us pay attention, notice something we might otherwise have overlooked, see things in a new way. Maybe if we all read more poetry we wouldn’t need reminders or national holidays to take a break from our busy routines to reflect on the bigger things that matter.

—Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor


When the Heart Dies, It Dies Entire

                             after Kurt Brown            

Mars understood that something enormous bred into him made
him run
danger in good genes that                 looking for a way out                
tears out ahead of the will                     for the two minutes    
along the rail      
start to finish               but not this             not this bursting heart            
the track’s falling away beneath his hooves             not how he’ll
go wrong    
tear off             crash into the far rail           his rider over it            
like a ruined city           everything known unknown in a stone-
heart dark

Heart matters in a racehorse               Given out             it’s a
snapped cable  
all the wires down                         that hunger to finish                            
like a spoken prayer          Mars     the announcer says     is
taking no part    
as if Mars       were a spoiled child       pouting over a plate of

The five million went to Gentildonna             the sun went on its
own track
the Mike de Koch crew                    packed up                      
for the trip back
& the fans ripped up their tickets on number 2   & cursed their
rotten luck

From a scrap of linen, a bone, forthcoming from and printed with permission of Press 53.


Murchison_5-14-15Ginger Murchison assisted Thomas Lux in founding Georgia Tech’s POETRY at TECH, where she has been one of the McEver Visiting Chairs in Poetry since 2009. A graduate of Warren Wilson’s MFA program, she is Editor-in-Chief of The Cortland Review. Press 53 will publish her debut collection, a scrap of linen, a bone, in 2016.



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