American Life in Poetry: As Serious as a Heart Attack

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Here is what one might call a most witty anti-Valentine’s Day poem, which, tellingly, turns out to be an exuberant and witty pro-love poem.

Kalamu Ya Salaam’s “civilization” should be read as an over-protestation against sentiment, for in the end, “As Serious as a Heart Attack,” is a lovely and defiantly optimistic celebration of the abundance of love.

As Serious as a Heart Attack
By Kalamu Ya Salaam

i have never been fully domesticated
but i have been civilized

by women taught that the heart
is more than a muscle

a life drum whose function is
both physical blood pumping
and spiritual longing to be embraced

but love, ah love is a river
we may get wet
but we can never drink it all
love always flows on
more than we can ever swallow

no matter how thirsty
we claim to be

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2020 by Kalamu Ya Salaam, “AS SERIOUS AS A HEART ATTACK” from Cosmic Deputy, poetry and context 1968-2019 (University of New Orleans Press, 2020.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.