The heart heals itself between beats


Selected poems


Roadside grasses, Melbourne

Can you love a city through its edges
the tattered and weary, brave grasses seen from a tram
as it shakes and rattles towards the city?

I thought I was falling in love then
face pressed against the glass, passing
a school playground where the children wore blue hats

with wide brims, fastened under the chin
like the gap between grass and earth
the blades pushing like those little necks.


After a gastroscopy

The smile on his mouth is like the mouth guard
the tube went through. He gagged a little
despite sedation. The comments were reassuring.

He asked questions. They gave him sandwiches
and tea. Returned to the waiting room
he stretches his lips at everything: reception

where he received directions — was he really
that nervous three hours ago? Everyone looks
interesting: there are flowers in a bucket

and he has a good oesophagus, a good duodenum
everything inside him is at it should be
everything is gleaming, even the winter rain.




At the last your feet swelled and their shape
changed to a caricature of a foot. How
strangely arched, it seemed, the foot
you lifted from your only fit, the slipper.

All you could wear: slippers befitting a mandarin
in maroon velvet with embroidered uppers
the widest size for your stiff high arch
to slide into, without a chance of straightening.

Racks and racks of shoes you possessed
boots and stilettos, sandals light as air
buckles, straps, suede, satin. Surely they
could have assembled into one hybrid pair

fit for your poor stiff foot that seemed
like a dinosaur trying to enter a building
the ceiling too low for the neck, the tail knocking
over the walls, the head like your pointing big toe.



The heart heals itself between beats

When the Middlesex Hospital was coming down
I walked through empty corridors to the chapel
and stood behind a rood screen, admiring
self-sacrificing matrons and eminent surgeons.

The heart heals itself between beats.
The heart heals itself between beats.

Once there were amputee men in wheelchairs
outside on the pavement, smoking and flirting
'How are you, sweetheart?' Blankets over their stumps
and in their eyes no lack of meaning.

The heart heals itself between beats.
The heart heals itself between beats.

The chapel was saved. The rats ran out in legions.
The nurses and doctors kept on packing.
They carried long lengths of piping
and piled boxes in all the corridors.

The heart heals itself between beats.
The heart heals itself between beats.

I read it somewhere in a journal of cardiology.
Sometimes I mention it at dinner parties.
The use of time, the clenching of the heart
that can be no stranger to the beats of a clock

The heart heals itself between beats.

and all that accompanies the emptying and filling
of chambers where silence must be an unknown
but still love sluices and cleans and restarts
as the surgeons did in the old Middlesex.

The heart heals itself between beats.

How it works I cannot tell. Maybe each cell
proposes a soliloquy to itself and speaks
or on the warm wall of a ventricle
embroidered like a sampler over a bed

The heart heals itself between beats.
I heal myself between beats.


Elizabeth SmitherElizabeth Smither was New Zealand poet laureate (2001-3). A new collection, ‘Night Horse’ will be published by Auckland University Press in 2017.

Topic tags: Elizabeth Smither



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Existing comments

Sincere gratitude for this poem. It gives Hope. Loved it and will re read this day. Words from a soul that heal too. Thank you Elizabeth Another.
Joan Daniel | 04 October 2016

Thank you for sharing this lovely poetry. What a beautiful gift! The last one comforted my struggling heart.
Margaret Lamb | 04 October 2016

Elizabeth , such commonplace images with memories of those interesting times many of us experience. Magically expressed . And I agree that the heart does heal between beats, maybe a bit battered and well worn sometimes but it chugs along with amazing strength,when love."sluices and cleans and restarts" Thanks for some beautiful words on a rainy , cold spring day.
Celia | 04 October 2016

Thank you for the heart beats, it is a moving poem
Kath O'Sullivan | 04 October 2016


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