O heart weighed down by so many wings
It cannot bear to fly,
I thought I could help you out
By stripping those wings from you
Layer by layer,
So that you could rise up and soar.
But I found that as I pulled off
Wing after wing
It did no good at all,
For you were still weighed down
By the sorrows that filled you up
And kept you from flying,
And when your last wings were gone
You simply died.
The first line of this poem is a complete poem by someone named Joseph Hutchison (whose poetry I am otherwise unfamiliar with) that I read on page 8 of The Poetry Home Repair Manual, by Ted Kooser. To be sure, the first line is a poem itself, but I thought to expand upon it and give my own understanding of a heart that, like an artichoke, has a great many wings but cannot fly because it is weighed down by so many sorrows that its wings are useless for the purposes of flying and simply serve as layers that can be torn off one after another until there is nothing left but what used to be an artichoke heart. There is something poignant in that image of a heart that gives all of itself until it has nothing left, no layers. One can think of those who give of their heart loyal and loving service and kindness to others until they have nothing left for themselves and simply die as a result.
I must admit that I did not grow up thinking much about artichokes or eating them at all growing up, as it was not the habit of my family to eat or grow such vegetables in hot and humid Central Florida. The first time I remember encountering the artichoke in a book was when I read a book written by and for men who had survived childhood sexual abuse, where one of the authors commented on the male heart being like an artichoke heart, where there are layers and layers of meaning to uncover in the ramifications of the experiences that one had to deal with. The image stuck with me, because I have always considered myself to be a person who had a lot of layers of complexity to deal with and who always found in the world that a great many aspects of life (including the Bible as well as one’s relationship with other people) were similarly full of layers that had to be peeled back one after another until one understood one’s existence and the struggles it would entail.
One of the downsides of the reading of materials is that all too often people treat texts like artichokes. The critic can all too easily read a book or listen to an album or watch a movie and simply seek to peel layer after layer from the text and pronounce it defective in some fashion until there is nothing left to savor or enjoy and no thought of the coherence of the original work. It is all too easy to think of ourselves as skillful critics because we can tear something apart that we do not consider what there was to begin with, to appreciate the way in which people’s writings speaks to the issues of their own existence and to their desire to be respected and loved for who they are. To be sure, I am an often harsh critic of the works that I encounter, and I am also one of those people whose works, like my heart, is layered and complicated. And as I tear through works, hoping that I appreciate a great deal of what I find even if I find much fault in it, there is always the risk one has in pouring one’s own life into creative works that other people will treat my works and my heart in the same fashion, tearing layer by layer until there is nothing left to recognize or appreciate at all.