“Tainted Lionheart” is a narrator’s journey into self-discovery and growth following the breakdown of a relationship that had been abusive. The abuse is not explicitly detailed because the poems’ focus is on acceptance and learning. This isn’t a lament or wallow in self-pity. “Fireflies” suggests red flags were ignored,
“we poked holes in the lid
thinking we could let breathe
what we had enclosed.
reveled in their sights
and watched them flutter to escape.
blinking lights dancing around
that closed jar
and while we were delighted,
they were damned and we knew that
but we did it anyway.”
There’s a sense of the fireflies being metaphors for the relationship: there were issues that needed addressing but weren’t and became bottled up for later release. Both parties were too caught up in the romance of being in love to allow warning signs to their due. “Broken” further explores this,
“not because I couldn’t fathom
laying my head down with a lonely heart
in an uninviting bed.
it was because I still loved you.
even when the lights were out.
i loved you broken, still.”
The collection is split into three sections, the middle of which, ‘Brooding’, explores the aftermath, moving from acrimony to acceptance. In “Beating”,
“heart ache is not just
lost love or
intimacy’s infidelity or
broken bed posts.
it is the
fear to fail and
welting worries and
endless empathy and
drifting desires and
it’s selfish sins.”
The ‘and’ enjambment pushes the reader on as the narrator ruminates, admitting that the reluctance to end a relationship is as much about a reluctance to admit failure, to accept the relationship was faulty and the necessary self-examination to avoid making the same mistake again.
In this case, it seems that whilst the narrator is undergoing self-examination, the other person involved is busy shifting blame, in “Storyteller”
“you’ve told your version of my story so many times
i am beginning to wonder if I should be taking notes here.
you know me better than me.
and I must be getting to the climax in your tale
because my ears have been ringing and
people are talking, and it seems I’m getting looks
i’ve never got before.
you’re telling a good one, aren’t you?”
The implication here is that his desire to get his version out in public is part of the continuing coercion that was present in the relationship. While the narrator is trying to figure out why she was drawn in and manipulated, he is concerned with his image and moving on by absolving himself of responsibility for what went wrong. Readers are invited to suspect his next relationship will repeat the same pattern.
The third and last section is ‘Breathing’, its theme captured in “Inhale”,
“i only allow what kept me from breathing
to leave me now.
i exhale my enemies and release my ridicule
and let go of that which made me lonely.
i just wish to breathe now,”
“Self” reflects on progress made,
“today the light shines a bit brighter
on the parts of who I am
that I could not see for many mornings.
i manage to make it a whole day
without shifting eyes to reflective glass
in assessment of myself”
In contrast, the narrator has learnt where her boundaries are and what she will and will not accept if there is a future relationship. Her learning is summarised in the poem that gives the collection its title, “A Letter to My Tainted Lionheart”,
“i’d tell her that even the most ferocious lions
have been known to fall tame to sly and stealthy hunters.
i’d let her know she is not broken because she is tainted
and it was the corruption of her heart
that gave her the reign to be
the Queen of this forest.”
For the metaphor to fully work the final image should be a savannah, not a forest. But the poem does focus on the learning and discovery that the relationship breakdown allowed her to undertake, that perhaps she wouldn’t have undertaken had the relationship not happened. The narrator emerges a stronger and better person who is no longer defined by her relationship.
Whilst “Tainted Lionheart” explores a universal experience, it keeps sight of the personal and steers clear of self-pity. None of the poems feel self-indulgent or exclude the reader. The narrator acknowledges this is her side of the story without tipping all the blame on the other side. She has a clear message: you’ll repeat the same mistakes unless you learn and learning makes you stronger and more self-aware.