Tin Heart: poems for a heart transplant

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters  

Today, I have a magical little gift to share with you. It’s not a gift that will arrive with tissue paper and a satin bow in time for your birthday, but one that landed in my own mailbox recently. The gift filled me with awe and gratitude, and also a need to share it with other heart patients and those who love them.

The gift is a collection of poetry called Tin Heart (Corazón de Hojalata) by Margarita Saona, translated from Spanish by Marco Dorfsman, and published in 2017. But Margarita’s not your average poet. In January of 2017, she underwent a heart transplant procedure – and that’s what she writes about. 

As she told me, “I hope you find in the poems a reflection of some of the issues we face as heart patients – and, more generally, as mere mortals.” 

Margarita describes her book of poetry as “the story of two hearts”, experienced in both English and Spanish. It contains poems she wrote between December 2015 after being diagnosed with heart failure, and February 2017, after her heart transplant.

Here are just a few of my own favourites from Tin Heart:





that is not made

of who I am:


and memories

set in motion

by a heartbeat.

The gods of technology

granted me

a second life:

a tin heart

pumps the life

that animates my body,

my DNA,

my memories.


But when I rest my hand

on my chest

searching for my heartbeat,

the rhythm that used to be

the soundtrack of my human life

the only thing I feel

is the flat

humming noise


a refrigerator.

I am one of the fortunate ones.

My heart

all patched

all scarred

too big

too weak

too fast

has gotten so much love

and so much care. . .


My heart is failing,

so they say. . .


But I am here

still fighting

heartache away.

The Battle


And if I die

(that is to say, if I die soon)

will they say that I lost the battle?

How could they then praise

my fighting spirit?

My fortitude? My determination?

And what kind of battle is that?

And who is the enemy?

Are winning and losing

ways of living and dying?

What disguise will they find

in order not to name brutal death?

Of course, my own thing,

this unraveling heart,

breaking and malfunctioning,

is harder to name than

the monsters on the list,

like Alzheimer’s and cancer,

and it is hardly an enemy.

It is my heart, my heart, mine,

my own heart,

since forever a part of me,

of who I am, of who I was,

and no euphemism works for me.

If I fight and exhaust myself

to live,

I still don’t know about the enemy

unless it be death,

and the battle itself


a negotiation for an extension.


And if I die

(that is to say, if I die soon,

but also later,

when I die. . . )

I would like to face,


the life I lived,

with all the screw ups

and the good moves,

apologize when necessary

and thank love,

admit that I could just barely

give what I had,

give my daughters the strength

to also be able to face


which is sometimes harsh

and sometimes bright,

and then to depart

with no hard feelings

and with no more fears

to let the body return

to its primal elements,

knowing that if I am dust,

I once was dust in love.

 These Things

Because these things

not only happen to others,

they sometimes happen to ourselves,

these things,

which sometimes are illness

or death

or a body that is also a machine

or a sick child

or the fear that transfixes. . .

And then we search for the understanding of


in what way,

we used to understand these things

when they only happened to others,

and how the other others,


to whom these things don’t happen

can understand these kinds of things

that are happening to us.


♥ ♥ ♥

It was hard to choose only a handful of Margarita’s poems to allow you to sample what lives between the covers of Tin Heart. In These Things, for example, I love the way she so beautifully captures what makes no sense to the freshly-diagnosed heart patient: the sudden need to abandon a belief that bad things happen only to others, or facing this new terror about an unknown future that “transfixes” us.

In this story of two hearts, Margarita explains that you will find the story of her old, worn out heart. “But there is also, from the very beginning, the story of this new heart, the heart that not long ago animated another life and that now beats inside my chest.” She dedicates her book to her heart donor.

When she’s not writing poetry, Margarita teaches at the University of Illinois in Chicago, where’s she’s head of the department of Hispanic and Italian Studies. She’s the author of two other books and several academic papers.

Thank you for writing this exquisite little book, Margarita, and thanks especially for sharing it with me so I could introduce it to other heart patients.


Learn more about Dr. Margarite Saona’s work and poetry here.

♥ ♥ ♥

Q: Have you ever been moved to express your own experiences as a heart patient through poetry?

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:   I wrote more about many types of heart disease in my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease”. You can ask for it at your local bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 20% off the list price).

12 thoughts on “Tin Heart: poems for a heart transplant

  1. Now I also have PFO looking atrial septal defect, arteriopathy and have to track it all down. CADASIL heart is apparently not much understood.


    1. Hello Juli – Sorry to hear this latest update. You’re right, CADASIL (officially: Cerebral Autosomal Dominant Arteriopathy with Subcortical Infarcts and Leukoencephalopathy) is a rare, inherited condition that affects blood flow in small blood vessels. Good luck to you in sorting this out…


  2. Dear Carolyn, thanks for giving my poems the chance to reach out to your readers.

    For me, reading your blog was to find both information, comfort, and a potential community of heart sisters. And thanks for your kind words.

    To kay_born_in_may, before the transplant I too had an LVAD (and also an RVAD 😐). Good luck with everything. I am happy to know that you too find solace in poetry and humor when faced what seem like unbearable challenges.

    Grateful again to Carolyn for this wonderful space. ❤️ Margarita

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are most welcome, Margarita – thanks for taking the time to leave your comment here…

      I love your book of poetry, and recommend ‘Tin Heart‘ to all heart patients, no matter what their specific cardiac condition is!


    2. Dearest Margarita…

      Thanks so much for your kind words.

      That poetry was truly beyond amazing.

      Feels as if I could feel some kind of pain which emanated from those words… and actually brought tears to my eyes.

      It was so touching.
      I’d love to purchase yours & sister Carolyn’s book.
      They are available on Amazon?

      I find freedom & release of pain through writing.

      It allows me to fly.

      Thanks for to all of you wonderful sisters for your inspiration & this community.


      Liked by 1 person

  3. The words of poetry seem to reach into a wounded heart to bring healing and peace in ways that the words of prose that merely educate can ever do …… lovely words here that merit many re-reads….

    Thanx for a surprise post…nice gift this Sunday morning, Carolyn.

    I have developed a strange vertigo that worsens when lying down and was feeling so overwhelmed and frustrated at one more thing to deal with and then these gentle words reminded me that many of us are dealing with multiple challenges besides heart issues….and through this blog we are all in it together.

    I find great comfort somehow in that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Sunny – I felt the same way reading Margarita’s poems: simply reading them in a paragraph of prose would not have the same impact!

      And I too have similar reactions to “one more thing” when it strikes.It seems to take so much time and energy to adapt and adjust to current symptoms that we just don’t have anything left to cope with something NEW! (I wrote about that here).

      Vertigo that worsens when you lie down??! That sounds awful – hope you get some help and successful treatment for that. I developed a painful muscle spasm (in a muscle I’d never even heard of!) almost two months ago and that almost pushed me over the deep end. I simply do not know how to tolerate even one more health crisis! The reality of course, is that I have somehow tolerated it for two months and I *think* it’s slowly improving…. Arrrgh!


  4. I just LOVE your blog in every way. It is my most favourite & with all in 1 capsulized content & inspiration.

    Thanks so much for posting 💕

    I love poetry too & had no clue I could actually rhyme a few couplets to describe experiences & pain…

    This is 1 portion from my blog..


    In the oceans – through the waves 🌊 a figurative sailor ⛵ , surfer 🏄 & swimmer 🏊

    Eager to unearth new treasures

    Planter & gardener with green fingers 🌹🌱🌿🌸🌺🌷.

    Chronic illness endurer 💪💊💉♿

    When, to my own body I became a foreign invader

    Since these past 2 years

    I am a different viewer

    To the world which has become the canvas of a broader picture.

    Currently a rare disease warrior dealing with congestive heart failure 📈📉

    Requiring upright sleeping postures

    Climbing mountains are taking a shower 🚿

    But definitely makes one feel nicer.

    People say: You look fit as a fiddler

    Most Drs assume: she’s a faker

    Aaaaah!!! If only they could see; Internally my body wreaks havoc to 1 of an only type complicated disaster.

    Beware ⚠

    For me the simple pleasure of laughter is a hazardous danger

    An angina trigger

    Also causes me to gasp for air, heart beating faster, blood pressure dropping lower, finally fainting to the floor

    Situations of extreme excitement or anger are not in my favor

    But the weight of these challenges will not make me a permanent moper 😔

    They are growth providers

    When the attitude of gratitude is a determining & driving factor.

    Beauty is scattered everywhere

    Sometimes & some days it requires a search longer & harder.

    (Read the rest of this poem here).

    And currently in the process of compiling 1 which deals with my heart requiring an LVAD…

    Much love & regards
    A heart sister 💙

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Few people can imagine, as you describe, that “the simple pleasure of laughter is a hazardous danger” to some heart patients. In poetry, that statement is so much more meaningful than trying to explain it. Thank you Kay for your kind words, and for sharing your poem.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you so much Carolyn. I’ve even told family & friends that I don’t know how to explain the words about your blog… the name itself firstly makes us feel united & less alone.
        It’s heartwarming & comforting to know there are other ladies out there who are with me or I can even turn to ask for help in this battle.

        It makes me feel less isolated in terms of being to able to relate with others facing this kind of disease.

        Appreciate your efforts!!
        Thank you for allowing us to also add our input. Talking with others in the same field lessens the weight too.


        Liked by 1 person

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