“Hearts Amiss”
A Poem by Gerald Stern

From the Collection Blessed As We Were

January 22, 2020  By Gerald Stern

How wrong it was to look at those hearts incised
in maples and birches with a loving
arrow between them, especially when the tree
grew larger and the hearts expanded
the way they do, and love took over the tree
and we said, “Here’s another,” and our own hearts
broke in two with envy and regret,
but what we didn’t know then was they were emblems,
signs, of something deeper and more discordant
for they—the lovers—had turned to sacrifice
and torn the other’s heart out from its moorings
and held the wet organ in their own hands,
loose and disconnected from the strings
the hearts of lovers deeply separated
from what were once such arrows of desire,
and some were painted red on buried stones
planted in the ground like broken teeth.


blessed as we were

Reprinted from Blessed as We Were: Late Selected and New Poems, 2000-2018. Copyright © 2020 by Gerald Stern. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Gerald Stern
Gerald Stern
Gerald Stern (1925–2022) was the author of more than twenty collections of poetry and essays. His most recent book of poems is Blessed as We Were: Late Selected and New Poems, 2000–2018 (W. W. Norton, 2020). He received numerous awards, including the National Book Award for This Time: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 1998). He lived in New York City.

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