Pectoriloquy |


Lawrence O'Brien, MA
Author and Funding Information

Correspondence to: Lawrence O'Brien, Westfield, MA 01085; e-mail: harriedlarry@comcast.net

Editor's Note: The author writes of this poem: “I had severe asthma as a child. My main medication then, in the early fifties, was Hydrillin, a pill that took a while to work and made me sleep most of the next day. During those nights, I would read voraciously until the medicine took effect. I developed a lifelong love of reading because of it. Now I teach college level English, my poetry is widely published and I edit a poetry journal.”

Michael Zack, MD, FCCP

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

© 2009 American College of Chest Physicians

Chest. 2009;136(1):319. doi:10.1378/chest.09-0170
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always began when my father
burned the bright leaves of fall
on our curb, the smoke sweetly
curling through the chilling air
and floating like soot down my
bronchial tubes. Then, wheezing
like my brother's accordion toy,
I would awaken at night, and my
mother would offer the hydrillin
medicine, which sounded to me
like an insect singing, and she would
tuck me into my father's chair
in the living room's darkness
with only the floor lamp turned on
for reading Treasure Island,
The Jungle Book, or Oliver
Twist, and there I would sit
until the medicine worked,
imagining Blind Pew at the door,
Nag, the cobra, lurking in
corners, and Bill Sikes with his
rope descending the roof, until
the pill took effect toward dawn,
unfolding its wings in my chest,
expanding and easing the airways,
and buzzing with sleep, I would
stumble to bed, slumbering
most of the sick day away,
barely hearing my father starting
the Dodge in the cold, choking
morning, to drive my brother
to school, smelling of Old Spice,
and both of them singing without me
along with the radio's jingle, Look
for the bottle with the ship that
sails the ocean, and I would sink
under the covers like Oliver Twist
in Mr. Brownlow's feathery bed,
and sail far away on the Hispaniola,
protected by a chattering Rikki Tikki Tavi.




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