Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

“Binary Things”

Rachael Lyon grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. She is the author of The Normal Heart and How It Works (2011), winner of the 2010 White Eagle Coffee Store Press Poetry Chapbook Award and finalist for the 2010 Black River Chapbook Competition. Lyon holds an M.F.A. in poetry from George Mason University and recently completed a Fulbright translation grant in Vienna, Austria. Her poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review’s Old & New: Re-Visions of the American South, Southern Humanities Review, and The Nashville Review, among others. At work on her first full-length collection of poems, she is an academic adviser and creative-writing instructor at Penn State.

Binary Things

When I was born, I was a heart problem.
Blue on my arms and legs. My lips.
The bad blood rose from the bed

of my fingernails up to the tip.
Mock purple: not sugarplum passion, not
chicory bloom or globe thistle, but some

dark shade of perennial:
lucky one, lives longer than two
years. Except, not winter hardy

like the plants Linnæus grew.
His father tired of one name, and he
took cue to nomenclate:

gave each plant two Latin names
like chambers of the heart
or two valves that halve each chamber into

parts. Bad valve: blue nails and lips.
Carl kept the names inside
a double-volume book that beat a story.

African blue basil. A hybrid
of two breeds. But Carl knew
Ocimum kilimandscharicum

can’t grow seeds. New plants are made
from cuttings, grafts from hardy
plants. No pain, just one small rip

along the underside. The thing is not
to make the old heart new. Some
hearts reject a valve and grip

themselves into arrest or else drum
heedless on. To know the tickle-drip
of blood through skin is to know hot

ache of pleasure. I was a heart problem: hardly
warm enough or pink enough a shade
to warrant celebration. But you,

Carl, you were Princeps botanicorum, made
into a second Adam, naming two by two
by two. What name would you give me?