The Heartbeat as an Ancient Instrument by David Schloss


The Heartbeat as an Ancient Instrument is organized in three sections, progressing from old to new mythologies of human coupling. It moves through time and space from the Garden of Eden origins myth, with the story of the expulsion and fall, through ancient Greek Homeric allusions, to Dantean tropes, and on to a present time. It journeys through time and space around the Old World especially, and alights, with noir allusions, at the complications of couplings and personal relations in its second and third sections. From teenage love to mature lust and a long sad uncoupling, it continues to move through various times and places, in a series of transformed personal histories, marriage, with more European travels, culminating in a final divorce, and its consequences; then ending in a new search for healing, personal mythologies, in a projected reversal of the original falling, by the book’s end.


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 104
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: September, 2020
  • ISBN: 978-1-948017-95-4


Eudora Welty says in her great essay on Henry Green: “Virtuosity, unless it move the heart, goes at the head of the whole parade to dust.” Adding immediately: “[w]ith Henry Green we always come back to this: the work is so moving.”

So is David Schloss’s. His meticulous poetic skill is relentless in the service of the heart. The Heartbeat as an Ancient Instrument renders both human grief and joy with grace, intelligence, beauty, and wisdom. —Michael Ryan

David Schloss’ The Heartbeat as an Ancient Instrument plays with a vast sense of scale, at times providing biblical floods and gardens, Odysseian paeans, and lovers” grumbling all the way into a god’s tight vise.” While impassive gods cast their eyes over the entire collection, at The Heartbeat’s core is a human-sized trial of long memory, an uneasy feeling of “seeing our past lives swimming before us,” and a tense conversation about a marriage in ruins. This book is a cry in the dark, a calling upon clearly rattled faith – faith in love, in the choices we make, in the doors we close, and in “the greater pain of our wandering.” —Erica Reid

The past is not prologue but the soundtrack playing behind David Schloss’ new collection, The Heartbeat as an Ancient Instrument. Schloss brings a cinematic eye and composer’s ear to five acts, beginning with the departure from Eden and ending at the grave. Simultaneously universal and deeply personal, Schloss’ range proves flexible enough to take on anything from squandering of the Garden to sex in the shower. We seem always to be leaving paradise, and Schloss captures the pain and joy of each departure, moving deftly from the bluntly sober to the philosophically elliptical to the sweetly whimsical – sometimes in the space of a single poem as he does in “Facing Faces.” Heartbeat is the work of a poet at the height of technical mastery, with an unerring sense of line, deceptively effortless musicality, and an uncanny ability to stick-the-landing. —Geoffrey Woolf


Facing Faces

1. Behind the Eyes

Sometimes, if I meet someone who’s taken
some path I might have chosen, bohemian
or straight, it’s painful to see that person
I might have been, ways I didn’t go down.

If seeing things through the lens of notions
of lost selves seems difficult for me now,
once upon a time these what-if questions
weighed like so many winters on my brow.

Then I’d feel, breathing in a thinning air,
relations I’d known, their complications,
memories of leaning over others, prayers,
holding onto some fading conversations.

I turn to face these ever-changing skies
turning from day-lit to what’s still dimming
beyond once-dominant, now downcast eyes,
seeking some other, forward-facing vision.


David SchlossDavid Schloss was born in Brooklyn, New York, and educated at Columbia University, The University of Southern California School of Cinema, Brooklyn College of C.U.N.Y.  (BA), and The University of Iowa Writers Workshop (MFA). At the University of Cincinnati, and then at Miami University, he taught Creative Writing, Literature and Film Studies courses, retiring as Professor of English in 2014.

He has published four full poetry collections, The Beloved, Sex Lives of the Poor and Obscure, Group Portrait from Hell, and Reports from Babylon and Beyond; plus three chapbooks, Legends, Greatest Hits, and Behind the Eyes, as well as scores of poems in literary journals and anthologies over the years.

Additional information

Weight 7 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .375 in