Discussing ‘The Perfect Heart’ by Shara McCallum

The Perfect Heart
by Shara McCallum

I am alone in the garden, separated
from my class. This is what comes
of trying to make the perfect heart.

Scissors: silvery cold and slipping
through my four-year-old fingers.
I did not know and took the harder route,

tried to carve a mirrored mountain top
from each center of the page
after page of red construction paper.

Now, I am counting the frangipani
in bloom. Teacher’s words still shriller
than a mockingbird’s. My cheeks

wet and hot from more than heat.
If I had been taught, if
once I had been shown the way,

I would have obeyed – not been
a spoiled, rude, wasteful little girl.
Folding the paper in two,
I would have cut away the crescent moon.


Thoughts and Comments

Something I noticed right away when reading this poem was the subtle inclusion of rhymes. For example, “words” and “mockingbird’s” in the fourth stanza, “cheeks” and “heat” in the fourth and fifth stanzas, “way” and “obeyed” in the fifth and sixth stanzas, and “two” and “moon” in the last stanza. Because these rhymes do not necessarily occur at the end of the lines, the poem has rhythm without sounding cheesy, which could have been the case since this poem is about a young child. Another example of effective word choice is “still shriller” in the fourth stanza; not only do the bases of these words rhyme, they form an alliteration.

In the third stanza, I really like “from each center of the page / after page of red construction paper.” The line break after the first “page” and the wording draws the reader’s attention to this part – “center of the page” makes sense, and so does “page after page,” but “center of the page after page” is a bit odd with that “the” included.

While the last line of this stanza is the only time the word “red” is directly used, the color itself appears throughout the poem. First of all, the word “heart” itself alludes to red: anatomically correct hearts are made of red tissues and pump red blood, and the well-known heart shape is typically colored in red. After the actual use of the word, the image of “frangipani” (a type of flower) comes up, which – although not always – can be red. And then, of course, we have the narrators “cheeks” that are “hot from more than heat.” Emotion and temperature both contribute to rosy cheeks.

In the very last stanza, the use of italics for “spoiled, rude, wasteful little girl” conveys the emotion much more effectively than quotations would, I think. This stanza also has four lines while the rest have three, but there isn’t necessarily a reason for this. Overall, the organization into (usually) three-lined stanzas and the capitalization of letters at the beginning of each new sentence allow the reader to easily follow along.

While the title isn’t necessary to provide information to the poem, the use a phrase from the poem itself works out nicely. Though the poem is about a young girl who’s frustrated, crying, and isolated, it is still playful overall.

– Rachel.

Here is a short author bio from Poets.org.
Click to view an interview with Shara McCallum on the process of writing poetry.