Dripping from a tub of formalin
I lift the soggy lung, attached air pipe,
resected yesterday from Thomas Quinn,
for carcinoma–bronchogenic type.
I place it on my cutting board, behold
a ruined, graffiti-covered tenement,
abandoned now, but once was home I'm told,
to a tenor's voice that toured the continent.
But, when it moved out became a conduit
for the smoky balm he used to calm his fears,
sent in from sticks he stuck between his lips
thirty times a day for thirty years.
I slice coronally, apex to base.
A battlefield. Each bronchiole–a pitch-
encrusted ragged hole, the rest replaced
with shaggy strands, like planks from ditch to ditch.
The casings from the half a million shells
that landed here, he flicked on floors in sad
hotels, those burnt-to-the-socket missiles
the only real friends Tommy ever had.
With scissors I unzip the bronchial sleeve,
surprise a fleshy ulcerated stew
of tortured cells that, desperate for reprieve,
grabbed halberds, pikes, and anaplastic grew.
Till one day Tommy noted that his phlegm,
the green and yellow glop he'd always hocked,
was flecked with reddish flakes–then more of them.
Tom knew at once, that death had knocked.
I snip some samples for the microscope:
its burrowing hooked tongue, its bulging head,
dissect the hilar and segmental nodes
for miliary seeds, implying spread.
My findings put it five to one against.
Upstairs, the doctor tweaks the oxygen.
The priest peeks in. Tom weighs this life, this chance.
He has his other lung; he has his friends.