“Heart in a Box” by Francesca Bell

Francesca Bell


It was captured, like so much else, on video.

The helicopter’s slow approach.

How it seemed to sidle in the air, toward the hospital roof, where it meant to land.

How the machine faltered and, faltering, began to spin, shedding debris—the way a person in moments of loss will sometimes shed hubris—before it surrendered, finally, to gravity and dropped to its side.

It rested there, as if disoriented, until first responders helped the pilot and passengers out, nearly unscathed.

Then, with the Jaws of Life, the donor heart, trapped in the wreckage, was pried free, still beating in its box.

As it used to beat beneath a chest’s fertile field before doctors made a furrow in the flesh and split an archway of bone to harvest it.

As a woman’s belly is sometimes sliced open and a whole new person hauled out.

As someone’s love can pull you from your life’s dark cavity into the light.

Onscreen, you can watch the man in scrubs scoop the box into his arms and dash across the helipad.

Maybe it’s his patient whose heart decays inside.

Maybe he’s thinking of his ex-lover’s pulse, how it used to quicken beneath his touch.

Maybe he trembles, remembering, as the severed heart dances against his chest.

You can watch him cradle it before he trips, see his grip tighten just before he begins to fall.

See the heart skitter away.

Imagine the man’s own heart as it plummeted.

How it clenched its battered fist inside him and then went on.

from Poets Respond
November 15, 2020


Francesca Bell: “In the midst of all of the big political news and the devastating pandemic news, a smaller story captured my attention this week, the story of a helicopter bearing a donor heart that crashed atop the hospital where a patient awaited a transplant. It was amazing that none of the three people in the helicopter sustained serious injuries, but how incredible that the donor heart was found intact and rescued from the wreckage. That would have been story enough, but once the heart, safe in its travel box, was handed off to a member of the hospital staff, it was dropped. In his rush, the man carrying the heart across the helipad tripped over a metal plate, and the heart flew from his grasp as he fell. The organ survived all of this and was transplanted successfully that day. Of additional interest to me is the relatively new technology used to transport harvested hearts. They are kept beating, circulating blood, at just the right temperature in what is called a ‘heart in a box’ device.” (web)

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