A Man Eats Another Man's Heart
A man eats another man’s heart. You, witness, try to make a record of it. It’s all been said. Variations on a theme: either To make peace is to forget, or “To forgive is to forget.” Try again: “War will never end.” Try again: Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead. Try again: “The heart is a muscle the size of your fist.” Try again.
Two men are on the ground and one is wounded at the chest. The other is eating something red and pulsing, blood on his palms. They have long fingers those hands, archaeologist’s hands, peeling back skin to extract history. The wounded man scarcely moves his lips. The other is tearing into the organ with his teeth. It seems tough. He chews ten times, good for digestion. He runs tongue over mouth. Crimson smears the cheek. There is a hole in the wounded man’s chest where his heart should be. The rib cage juts, like the ceiling of an unfinished cathedral. He turns skyward. Oh, holy of holies. Arrows pierced St. Sebastian and St. Joan held a bird in her mouth.
A man eats another man’s heart. You came from the Paleolithic. You were born in the first century C.E. The man is not a man but your mother. The man is not a man but your child. If you prefer, you can call it the Crusades and wipe the reference out of later books. This is the Great Famine of 1315-1317. You are crossing the Sierra Nevada or Sierra Leone. Liberia, Congo, Uganda, North Korea. You woke and found yourself in Florida. This is at the Siege of Samaria, of Jerusalem, of Numantia, of Ma’arrat al-Numan. The Siege of Leningrad. No, this is…. An act derived from starvation (survival), from ritual (survival), from war (survival), or perhaps only from remembrance. If your purpose is not to absorb the strength of your enemy, it is to absorb the strength of the other. If your purpose is not to punish, it is to perpetuate.
A man eats another man’s heart. You are the first man, the man who filled his mouth and chewed. You consumed every bite on the plate. And yet, and yet, after dabbing napkin to lips, after washing the knife and the fork, you feel something, a flicker, something you name regret. The meal was not satisfactory. It needed, perhaps, a little pepper. It needed searing in a pan with a clove of garlic. You throw the plate in the sink. You are left with your hands and when you throw those in the sink you are left with yourself.
A man has eaten your heart and you fear your history will be confused with the histories of others. “Wasn’t that the same story that came out of Syria?” they’ll say. “Are we talking about Tenochtitlan?” The same news pieces you turned away from on the television (you said, “how horrible!”) have become your story, with others turning away. (“Why can’t we have some feel-good news just for once?”) In the galleries, curators will set your photograph alongside their pictures of others who have been crushed and mangled, making experience “instance,” making “sense of it all.” This is more intolerable than the suffering itself. There is no sense. This was not instance.
A man eats another man’s heart. You are the heart. Artists will attempt to replicate you. Pop stars will sing songs about you. Scholars writing the histories of your country might mention you in the space of a sentence. You will be reduced to the amount of time it once took to beat. Others will rewrite you, speculate the reasons of your demise. Poets will memorialize you in their epics, which they will submit to the greatest literary prizes of their country (and win). Orators will speak of you to large audiences in the most ornate symposiums of cities you will never see. You are the heart, swallowed and digested into adenosine triphosphate and waste.
A man eats another man’s heart. You stood and watched, the easiest thing to do.
Caitlin Luce Christensen's essays have appeared in Defunct Magazine, Diagram, and Columbia Journal. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA