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September 23, 2010

by Gregory Williams, MD
Mesa, AZ
The surgeon presses the scalpel deep to the
breastbone and orders: Harvest the heart.
You might envision a man in white lab coat
plucking it from a tree, the ripest of all the
hearts sagging the limbs in the heart orchard
behind the hospital; next to the fields where
kidneys grow in perfectly straight alternating
rows of Left and Right, converging to a point
past the horizon; near the experimental
greenhouse where brains and even
consciousness itself sprout tiny buds in
climate-controlled bell jars.
But there are no farms and there is no
growing season for human hearts. They
arrive by chance. Mostly at a time when you
are asleep and mothers pause before
answering the phone. They tumble down
gravel roads, buffered inside bony cages,
and roll through automatic glass doors into
emergency rooms, where they will be
passed like gold batons, one at a time, from
grief to hope to a waiting chest.
(This prose poem originally appeared in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. JAMA, October 13, 2004—Vol 292, No. 14)