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American Life in Poetry: Rehab

American Life in Poetry: Column 277

By Ted Kooser

Here's hoping that very few of our readers have to go through cardiac rehab, which Thomas Reiter of New Jersey captures in this poem, but if they do, here's hoping that they come through it feeling wildly alive and singing at the tops of their lungs.


We wear harnesses like crossing guards.

In a pouch over the heart,

over stent and bypass, a black

box with leads pressed onto metal

nipples. We pedal and tread and row

while our signals are picked up

by antennas on the ceiling, X's

like the eyes cartoonists give the dead.

Angels of telemetry with vials of nitro

watch over us. We beam to their monitors

now a barn dance, now a moonwalk.

They cuff us and pump and we keep on

so tomorrow will live off today. Nurse,

we won't forget the animated

video of our cholesterol highway

where LDL, black-hatted scowling

donut holes on wheels, blocked traffic.

But with muscles like gutta-percha,

can we leave time's gurney in the dust?

By now only the dead know more about

gravity than we do. In reply, a tape

of Little Richard or Jerry Lee comes on

and we're singing, aloud or not, all

pale infarcted pedalers, rowers, treadmillers,

and our hearts are rising in the east.

American Life in Poetry 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 ©2009 by Thomas Reiter, whose most recent book of poems is Catchment, Louisiana State University Press, 2009. Poem reprinted from The Hudson Review, Vol. LXII, no. 2, 2009, by permission of Thomas Reiter and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.