SwEP Mid-Month Review: the heart is a muscle

Review by Lizzie Waltner

Kat Heatherington’s poetry collection, the heart is a muscle, brings to light ideas of love that address all aspects of life in a powerful manner and has a deep connection to nature throughout. Her use of, or lack thereof, of capital letters throughout her collection gives the pieces a softness. There are no sharp edges in this collection, which makes it very comforting. These pieces are bright and playful but not downplay the serious issues that wring our hearts.

In her first section, a house by the river, Heatherington’s poem ‘planting poem’ we not only get a taste of spring, but also the touch of the past and endings. For example,

i need to plant more food this year, and less flowers,
but that thin pale green leaf lifts my heart,
and i pray for rain enough to give them all blossoms.
the cat’s grave, her small lilac,
is undisturbed and thriving.

In this small section we see her powerful use of the past contrasting with the present. It not only reflects on the past, the previous dirt being flower filled and a resting space for her cat, but also what it can become which is more sustainable and hearty for the soul, growing more food and the ability of there still being beauty in her memories of her cat that can be represented by the thriving lilac.

This idea of needing more food, could also be applied to more than just nutritional value, and how sometimes all we can do is hope to get through the next months. We all need a little rain sometimes.

The central section is aptly named, stunning transitional moments, as it is not only done stunningly, but addresses some of the toughest realities everyone learns as an adult. In ‘breathing room’ Heatherington tackles the idea of distance and leaving, and the complexity we all feel when walking away from something we love.

now we both have room to breath
and are using it to cry with.
now I can see your stormcloud eyes
filled with pain, and watching me walk away
and not feel all the wind in my sails
fly towards the storm in your heart.

The piece ends with ‘we are both standing’ and I think that hits home hard, because despite sometimes leaving being a difficult idea to grapple with it can have a positive ending, such as being able to stand on ones own.

The last section of this collection, the flammable heart, is admittedly my favorite. This entire section made my heart ache, but in the best way possible. My favorite piece in this section is, maybe. It’s simplicity about wishful thinking with the simple phrase ‘or maybe not’ got me every single time it’s used throughout this piece. This repetitive technique in this poem is repetition at its highest.

and you will visit now and then,
or maybe you won’t,
and i’ll love you anyway,
and send you postcards and text messages
about the rain and the corn and the sweet desert stars,

The way the poems presents this idea of unconditional love, despite being aware of things not working out makes it that much more heart-breaking. At the end of the day, there is always wishful thinking for love and always a realization, that maybe it won’t work out.

Overall, this collection really gets under your skin and claws itself in, sometimes making you feel warm and fuzzy, other times letting those emotions sting throughout. It makes you feel alongside the narrator and presents itself in a relatable manner and uses wonderful metaphors and similes to give visual representation to emotions. Kat Heatherington does a fantastic job in this collection, and anyone with a heart will adore it.


Click the image to order the heart is a muscle from Bookworks ABQ.

the heart is a muscle
by kat heatherington

Kat Heatherington is a queer ecofeminist poet, sometime artist, pagan, and organic gardener. She lives south of Albuquerque New Mexico, in Sunflower River intentional community with a varying number of other humans and cats. Kat’s work primarily addresses the interstices of human relationships and the natural world. She has one previous book, The Bones of This Land, published in 2017 by Swimming with Elephants Publications and available at Bookworks and Harvest Moon Books in Albuquerque, as well as on amazon.com. She can be found online at https://patreon.com/yarrowkat and on instagram at @sometimesaparticle. You can contact the author at yarrow@sunflowerriver.org.