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Poetry and Medicine
December 9, 2009

Change of Heart

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

JAMA. 2009;302(22):2408. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1700

He is crying.
Gown falls open over stapled-shut chest,
where a patch of silver hair lies mowed
and planted with thick metal wickets.
He reads to me from his hospital bed:
wild horses run hard over red rock.
His voice begins to shake;
at first I think he's laughing.
He's had his heart laid open,
bone saw splitting its calcified cage.
This heart so used to the close embrace
of pericardium, like praying hands
whose fibrous fingers hold the heart secure.
Support falls away as scalpel
enters this human cathedral.
No audible hallelujah lifts as steel
slides into stilled chambers.
Does some holy fragment of us slip out
of such a wound?
A wisp of soul?
A drop of grace?
He tells me his heart falls free at night
bumping into his breastbone when he rolls.
He dreams his heart falls out of his chest onto the floor.
Like his heart, he is unmoored.
Emotions run hard over him, untamed.
He doesn't like any of this at all,
and still he is changed.
He dreams in colors now—
vibrant greens, blood reds, blues—
seeing things he's never seen before.
He still cries when I read to him,
as words become poetry on every page.
Is this what it means to have an open heart?

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