i have genetic heart disease.
(or: unsaid things.)
(or: to my husband, on my death.)
(Winner of the 2023 Majda Gama Editors’ Prize)

i hope it will not be too terribly cold.

i hate being cold, you know,

and i know you would hate it—

leaving me there in the cold.

i would hate for you to be cold 

the day you put me in the ground.

*

you better fucking be there.

you better watch your ass on the subway platform

and when you ride your bike 

down broadway or fifth.

if there is anything

anything at all

to which i have a right

it is this.

(don’t you think you ought to let me

(die first)?)

*

and couldn’t you at least not say,

you never really know, or, 

people get cancer, people get 

hit by cars every day? it’s not the same.

*

in the end:

they’ll give me a new heart.

it will fix some things. it won’t fix others.

think: immunosuppressed. think: the nerves are cut. think: rejection.

i’ll use purell all the time. 

i’ll eat crackers, vomit pills,

stay out of crowds in the winter

i won’t shake hands.

i’ll keep a shower by our door—

make you rinse off all the germs.

i’ll grow hairy from the meds, and puffy in the face, 

my—not the same—heart biopsied each year.

i’ll wear hats in the sun, watch for moles, lesions, burns—

prone to cancers of the skin

and the lymph.

i won’t even feel the denervated heart: dumb pump, deaf to me—

we won’t know how to speak.

i’ll look fine,die quick.

of a stomach virus, an infection on my finger if i cut it in the kitchen.

(i seem to always cut myself in the kitchen.)

*

or:

they’ll make me wait for a new heart.

and i’ll walk the streets on machines, machines,

machines hooked on my belt, looped on my shoulder,

with lines, plastic tubes, punctured through my skin,

one or two or four, swinging from the battery to the pump inside

trying to buy me time

as i walk through stores, down streets,

draped in sweatshirts, soft camis, no bras,

waiting always for the call, for a heart.

and i could get an infection.

so easy. so quickly.

i could have a blood clot.

i could have a stroke.

the pump could malfunction.  

and i could get an infection—not the same—

an infection,

with the lines, plastic tubes 

punctured through to my heart—

and i could get an infection 

from the germs on my skin.

*

or:

they’ll make me wait for a new heart but

ban me from the streets and machines.

and i will lie in a hospital bed 

on twenty-four-hour IVs.

for days or months, for weeks.

and my death will keep coming.

i’ll get thinner on the armbones, grow a nine-month’s-belly

pregnant with fluid, with thick-dough-ankles/edema-pits.

*

or:

they’ll tell me i’m not qualified

for a new heartat all.

*

or: 

they’ll have an artificial—no.i no longer believe


in an artificial heart to stack on shelves.

ready-made, for-everyone-made:

neat, uncomplicated, bloodless.

it’s not coming. it might be coming. it’s not the same. 

*

you’ll always take it too lightly.

you’ll always worry too much.

you’ll scrunch up your teared-up face

and do stupid things like pet my hair.

you’ll try and make me stay.

*

either way, don’t you think you ought to let me—

*

and who cares about the end?

who cares about grandkids

and it could be years

and the medical industry 

and the newest technology

and who knows what they’ll have in twenty years?

i don’t get denial. i don’t get your hope.

i get medicines. i get chest pains. 

i get thirty years old and all my mornings

i’m taking my blood pressure, heart rate, and weight. 

i get pills to make me pee off all your burgers, salt-retained.

i get asking all the waiters for no added salt.

it’s not the same as you losing five pounds.

it’s the same, not the same, as you trying to eat healthy.

and you, always you, saying can’t we just get pizza?

and sure. fine. i want a salty slice of pizza. don’t you think

it seems little to me too?

but then i wake up five pounds heavy,

take the pills to pee it off,

and pee and pee and pee and pee

in meetings, in class.

i get doctors and doctors and always 

call the doctor on my fucking to-do list.

i get a subcutaneous implanted defibrillator that could shock me anytime 

so i stay six or twelve inches, six or twelve feet

from magnets, power saws, remote control

cars, metal detectors, arc welders, cell

phones, any headphones, cb radios, jumper

cables, radiation (people get cancer), car

engines, truck engines, golf cart engines, weed

whackers, wireless routers, e-readers, home

speakers, hair dryers, leaf blowers, power

drills, hand-held back massagers, video game

controllers, electronic body fat scales, amusement

parks, electrolysis, electric fence…

and means they’ll crack me open to replace it in five years

and leaves exactly three scars on my chest and ribs

and juts from my left side altoid-can-sized

and makes it impossible to find an only-somewhat painful bra.

i get bloodwork. i get ekg’s. i get them telling me:

caffeine is good, caffeine is bad.

running’s good, too fast is bad.

and just because the bodies of your father and your uncle

and your cousins and your sister—

i get appointments and appointments, where always,

always there’s something:

i get nurses who say, there’s nothing really that wrong…

and:it’s just your heart rate is only…

and:does it usually go so low?

and:well…it’s most likely fine.

i get trailing behind you when we walk down the street—

i get trying not to look like i can’t keep up.

*

also: arrythmias.

*

it’s not the same.

it’s not the same. it’s not the same. it’s not the same. it’s not the same. 

it’s not the same. it’s not the same. it’s not the same. it’s not

the same.it’s not thesame.it’s not the same.it’s

notthe same. it’s notthe same. it’s not thesame. it’s not the same.

it’s not the same.it’s not the same. it’s not the same.it’s not the same. it’s not the same. it’s

notthe same. it’s not the same. it’s not the same. it’s not thesame. it’s

not thesame. it’s not the same. it’s notthe same. it’snot

the same. it’s not the same.it’s not the same.it’s not the same.

it’s not the same. it’s not the same. it’s not the same. it’s not the same. it’s not the same. 

it’s? not. not.it’s?not.

*

or:

we could have kids. we could have grandkids.

we could be ninety-five, have sex every night.

*

will i be relieved? will i be sad? will i be both?

what if i’m mad at you?

what if i’m unspeakably happy with you?

*

you will have to write the poem to help you go on.

you will have to base it on what you think i would have said.

you will put me in the cold ground   or the warm.

you will say things like: she would have loved this breeze.

she would have loved how the cows are in the field across the street.

or: i just can’t leave her alone in the cold. she hated the cold.

or: she’s finally with the rest of them.

(i’ll be lined up with the rest of them—

the familywith the sick hearts.)

you will eat chocolate ice cream for me

even though it’s not your favorite.

even though you told me you wouldn’t do that

and that maybe i don’t understand you

and that you wouldn’t grievelike thatat all.


linda harris dolan, a white woman with her head turned to her left, looking off into the distance. She has a half-shaved head and brown hair stacked in a top-knot. Her right hand is lifted to her ear, adjusting a silver hoop earring, and her right ring finger is adorned with seven thin silver stacked rings with varied textures. She wears a white button-up shirt and a thin silver necklace. Her eyes are hazel, her eyebrows are thick and dark brown, and she wears red lipstick. She is unsmiling but looks pleasant and focused.

linda harris dolan is a poet and educator living in Lenapehoking/Brooklyn with a chronic heart condition. As Poetry Instructor at NYU Langone Medical Center, she leads writing sessions with nurses, medical students, caregivers, and patients. She is Assistant Poetry Editor at Bellevue Literary Review. She holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU, where she was a Starworks Creative Writing Fellow, and an MA in English & American Literature from NYU. She is the recipient of fellowship support from The Rona Jaffe Foundation, the Starlight Foundation, Brooklyn Poets, and the Ruth Stone House. Her work is featured in Bellevue Literary Review, Pigeon Pages, Barrow Street, Brooklyn Review, Cordella, and No, Dear, among others. She can be found online at lindaharrisdolan.com.