Pectoriloquy |


Lawrence Clement Desautels
Author and Funding Information

Editor’s Note: “This poem grew from a visit to my dying brother, who was diagnosed with rectal cancer in a very advanced stage. We had very little contact in the past forty years, so his death will be complicated by great regret. I teach writing and literature at Nichols School in Buffalo, New York.”

Reproduction of this article is prohibited without written permission from the American College of Chest Physicians (http://www.chestpubs.org/site/misc/reprints.xhtml).

© 2011 American College of Chest Physicians

Chest. 2011;139(3):718-719. doi:10.1378/chest.10-0423
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There’s something about a pitchfork—
not the flat-bladed spading fork used to dig
daffodil bulbs or to loosen dirt in the garden—
but the four-tined, smooth long-handled kind,
the one you find pinning a hay bale in the barn,
the one you use to throw manure and silage.
I found it in his garage, with the leaf-rake,
and knew they had worked together before.
I went to the yard to rake pine needles into neat rows,
and then experimented with the pitch fork,
pushing the rows along the ground into waist-high mows,
and lifted and tossed the needles into the bouldered,
bordered spot beneath the trees, where neatly tied bales
of pine needles waited to be spread with those
I had raked and piled on that cold Georgia morning,
my left hand sliding smoothly
as I pitched easily the dry needles,
my mind entirely in the rhythm of the work.
The garage is full of tools, tillers and spreaders.
On the workbench cluttered with socket racks and screwdrivers—
the side-life of a man who felt comfort buried in mechanical disorder—
I saw a Spam can, its white lined inside porcelain-clean
but for two small screws. What were they for? I thought,
and then returned the rake and fork to their corner, cluttered too,
with shovels and hard-rakes and brooms and posthole diggers.
(I wondered how many lives would require two posthole diggers!)
Entering the basement through the garage, I opened a door,
knowing there he had tied flies and loaded ammunition,
had covered another bench with vices, presses and too much activity
for a glance, for the briefest of visits on a weekend
when much of the East Coast had been closed by a storm,
and time was a clear corridor that had missed us both.
My eyes settled on a cluster of light-weight fishing poles
nestled in the corner, surprisingly small tackle for a big man,
suggesting a grace I had never tied to my brother.
I could see him, on a small mountain stream, a quiet giant, patient,
making light casts with the five-foot bamboo rod I now held in my hands,
moving lightly along the bank, stalking the small native trout.
Maybe they’d seem right in his hands now that he’s so small,
watching hunting and fishing shows from his bed above, his loyal dog
jumping at birds and barking at bears and deer on the TV screen.
Later he would tell me I could come back after he smoked a cigarette,
so I gave him ten minutes and stared out the front window,
looking at my labor, a yard of pine needles raked and tossed.
When I returned, the smell of smoke was thick but I didn’t mind.
His dog was asleep; it had chased the deer and the bear and the birds
back into the woods, and now a lone fisherman sent long lovely casts
across a mountain stream. I sat on a folding chair next to his bed,
and he told me about Alaska, about gold found in the gizzards of ptarmigans,
about the difference between rabbits and hares,
about snowshoeing up and over the airbase dike, dragging game.
I didn’t have much to say. I love my brother but I didn’t have much to say.
The weather had been good to us;
my flight hadn’t been cancelled by the storm,
and we talked, each word a good-bye of sorts.
And I told him I regretted never having fished with him.
It meant so much more than that,
but I had neither the time nor the words.
And best of all—he understood everything I didn’t say,
everything I couldn’t say.




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