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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, March 8, 2018.
About this Poem 

“‘Cardiology’ juxtaposes and contrasts the myriad ways we think about the heart—clinically, emotionally, spiritually. As a physician who writes poetry, I've long been fascinated by how the complex machinery of the physical body accommodates and expresses who we are as human beings who are more than our flesh and blood. I hope the poem enacts the empathy we localize in our hearts when we confront suffering.”

—Rafael Campo

Cardiology

When we first met, my heart pounded. They said
the shock of it was probably what broke
his heart. In search of peace, we traveled once
to Finland, tasted reindeer heart. It seemed
so heartless, how you wanted it to end.
I noticed on the nurse who took his pulse
a heart tattooed above her collarbone.
The kids played hearts all night to pass the time.
You said that at its heart rejection was
impossible to understand. “We send
our heartfelt sympathy,” was written in
the card your mother sent, in flowing script.
I tried interpreting his EKG,
which looked like knife wounds to the heart. I knew
enough to guess he wouldn’t last much longer.
As if we’d learned our lines by heart, you said,
“I can’t explain.” “Please don’t,” was my reply.
They say the heart is just a muscle. Or
the heart is where the human soul resides.
I saw myself in you; you looked so much
like him. You didn’t have the heart to say
you didn’t want me anymore. I still
can see that plastic statue: Jesus Christ,
his sacred heart aflame, held out in his
own hands. He finally let go. How grief
this great is borne, not felt. Borne in the heart.

Copyright © 2018 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Rafael Campo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 8, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Rafael Campo

Rafael Campo

Rafael Campo was born in Dover, New Jersey, in 1964.

by this poet

poem
   I

Admitted to the hospital again.
The second bout of pneumocystis back
In January almost killed him; then,
He'd sworn to us he'd die at home.  He baked
Us cookies, which the student wouldn't eat,
Before he left--the kitchen on 5A
Is small, but serviceable and neat.
He told me stories: Richard Gere was
poem
A golden age of love songs and we still
can't get it right. Does your kiss really taste
like butter cream? To me, the moon's bright face
was neither like a pizza pie nor full;
the Beguine began, but my eyelid twitched.
"No more I love you's," someone else assured
us, pouring out her heart, in love (of course)—
poem
Arriving late, my clinic having run
past 6 again, I realize I don’t
have cancer, don’t have HIV, like them,
these students who are patients, who I lead
in writing exercises, reading poems.
For them, this isn’t academic, it’s
reality:  I ask that they describe
an object right in front of them, to make
it come