Review by Donna Vorreyer
“the heart would rather be left
alone in its cavity, just the heart and its
pericardium, alone, multilayered…”
In The Cardiologist’s Daughter, Natasha Moni combines both a poet’s and a doctor’s eye to create passages that appeal to both the head and the heart. The heart and its many mechanical and personal foibles are at the center of this collection, which tries to articulate the connective tissue that binds us to family, to each other, and to the world.
After the opening poem chronicling the heart attack of the speaker’s father, the speaker takes us through a series of poems that use the elements. In “The Acupuncturist warns the Cardiologist’s Daughter,” we start with fire: her heart caught fire, has swelled/to contain too much/heat. The next poem flows with “We speak of water,” and the next connects us to earth/sand in “Hold Fast to Mother’s Spine.” This movement to nature in many parts of the manuscript grounds the emotion and the medical terminology in a universal place that all readers can recognize. Images often resonate in both natural and medical ways: a butterfly is an insect, an image of freedom during war, and a type of syringe; eggs are surreal talismans as well as naturally fragile objects ripe with metaphor.
The real and beating heart of this collection, however, is its exploration of family, especially the bond between parent and child. “Once a Father, the crook of his arm” gives us a playful portrait: becomes swing, the play structure left to oxidize./After the heart patients clear, he swaps stethoscope/for the necklace of his daughter, stocking/ legs looping his throat. The narrator also allows the father his own voice in “The Cardiologist Speaks” and shares what she’s learned from him, saying that he knows that the heart is a house/tended with dream, it gives in/when it wishes. Other poems pay homage to the Indian and Dutch heritage of the author and her parents (shared in autobiographical notes as well as in the poems.) We have tigers, mangoes and the Ganges of India, and the Delft blue and House of Orange of Holland, ancestral histories of the family depicted in numerous ways.
The collection is strongest in the poems that juxtapose the domestic and the scientific. In “Cranberry Sauce Provides an Improper Dressing for the Modern Turkey,” Moni deftly weaves these images into profound understandings:
My mother wraps, unwraps
leftovers, addresses each dish with a dose
of plastic sheathing. Days ago, a miniature balloon
inside my father bellowed. And I arrived
at the understanding that we wouldn’t be taking this balloon
ride together, or one with hot air, a basket
attached for human voyage. What constricts, dilates.
What empties, fills.
One does not need to be the daughter of a cardiologist to appreciate the realities, sacrifices and nobility of the heart that Moni highlights in this collection. As long as yours is beating, you will find something here.
Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 18, Issue 3.
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