A Tender Heart


The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
Unshakeable, She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
~Pablo Neruda from “Ode to an Artichoke”

I first encountered a globe artichoke in my first week at college in California.  I’d never seen one before, much less dismantled and actually eaten one.  The California natives around me in the dining hall were astonished my world view had never before included artichoke leaves and heart.   After all, we were only an hour away from the artichoke capital of the world, Watsonville,  where the motto for the annual artichoke festival was “Thistle Be Fun!”

My frame of reference growing up on a farm was that thistle-looking plants were noxious weeds and needed to be chopped down before going to seed and reproducing even more noxious weeds.  This spiny looking bud that was about to bloom a purple thistle flower looked highly suspicious to me and not to be trusted.

But then someone showed me how to peel off a leaf, dip the base in mayonnaise or lemon garlic butter and scrape off the soft part with my teeth.  Noxious?  Not even close.  Absolutely delicious!  It was a revelation.

The circumferential peeling of leaves one by one leads deeper to softer petals and fewer prickles, with the flavor becoming less subtle and more distinct.  Once the leaves are all off, there lies uncovered at the base a heart to be scooped out.  The round meaty heart is the point of all this effort.  It is the gold in the buried treasure chest, the pot at the end of the rainbow. It takes work to reach it, but it never disappoints.

How to mentally get past the plainness and prickles?  How to recognize what appears so undesirable as something to preserve and nurture?   There are so many times in my day I walk right past such people or opportunities as not worth the trouble.  Sometimes I myself am the one with the prickles, protective as they seem to me yet cautionary to others, not to be trusted.

How could anyone know the tender heart that dwells within unless we gently, graciously, gratefully peel the prickles away?





7 thoughts on “A Tender Heart

  1. Emily, this is an especially profound, relevant message for this time in our daily Journey when so many souls are troubled beyond our knowledge; often beyond their ability to cope or to know to whom they can turn.


    It is difficult at times, but not impossible, to penetrate beyond the exterior of some persons whom we see or meet. What one may first encounter is a visage that seems to be guarded and protected by a wall (prickles) of suspicion and mistrust, fear, and hostility.
    It is impossible for one to know the wounds, sorrows, and daily struggles to survive that anyone carries within. Hence the need for their protective prickles.

    Occasionally I see or stand near a complete stranger (waiting in line somewhere, or sitting alone in an office, waiting to be seen by someone, e.g.) and I sense, or see in their eyes, that they are burdened and near despair. One way that I have tried to reach the ‘heart’ beyond the barred prickled exterior of that person is by trying to meet their eyes and by following immediately with a gentle smile, hoping that my eyes and my smile are silently speaking for me. Both actions consume but seconds in time. The person whom I am trying to ‘reach’ or silently communicate with in a non-threatening way will usually react slowly, sometimes guardedly. But then — by the Grace of God — you connect. And they read what is in your eyes and take it to their heart. Their visage will soften and then THEIR eyes and THEIR smile will let you know that, yes, you have connected!

    For a moment in time they will have experienced something that will have affirmed them and the loneliness of their pain in a beautiful, gentle and loving way. Their soul will recognize what is happening. With the help of the Holy Spirit, you will have planted a seed. The Lord will do the rest in His time and in His way.

    “The eye is the mirror of the soul.” (Shakespeare, sonnet)
    “The eye is the lamp of the body.” (Matt. 6: 22-24)
    “The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter.”
    (Cicero, Roman philosopher)


  2. Dear Emily…

    There are so very many mornings that I begin with a cup of coffee, and your Barnstorming posts. Thank you, thank you…bless you. What an incredible life you have had, and that you share with so many! What a joy…

    From the beginning introduction, when I had Googled Devi, and up came your blog post regarding her presence in our lives at Olympia High School all those years ago, I knew it was you, Emily Polis…

    Graci for your open and generous heart. Please know how much your life learning and intention has made such a difference in my life!

    Write on dear Emily!!! XOXO



  3. Oh Alice, once again you reach out to me and to so many others with your wisdom! It made me think about one of our visits to Japan when we were on a crowded subway train, as all Japanese trains tend to be and we were the only white people on the car. Japanese people will usually not make eye contact with each other or with foreigners, but an older woman sitting across from us smiled at us, with the slightest nod and gentle almost affectionate eye contact. Only when she turned a bit did we see she was wearing a cross necklace — a Japanese Christian! They are so rare there, but she did make a contact with us without words, just as you do, and we will never forget her for that gesture, in that foreign land. Bless you, Alice!



  4. Kay, so delightful to hear from you, and I’m so glad we have coffee together every morning, one way or another! maybe we better find a time to get together for coffee in real life too!



  5. Oh, the lovely artichoke and our delicate hearts. What a lovely post and comments. Reminds me of watching my horse’s, gently reach into a thistle plant to eat the flowering bulb out of the center of the throny leaves. Lips pulled back, teeth deftly nipping off the flower, missing all the stinging thorns. Those thistle reminded me of artichokes those many years ago.
    A couple years ago, I cut some of those same type flowering thistle heads for my Scharly. But I cut all the thorns off the ends of the petals like I do my artichokes. Scharly wasn’t able to pick and chose the plants she wanted as we don’t have thistles growing on our farm. She did enjoy eating them though. A good spring topic I think. I meant tonic (or did I?).


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