Pectoriloquy |

Poem of My Life FREE TO VIEW

Steven L. Shepherd
Author and Funding Information

Editor’s Note: The author writes: “I am 56 years old and have cystic fibrosis. In medical speak a person with a disease often becomes the disease. ‘A CF,’ I’ve heard. Or ‘a CFer.’ But there’s more to a life than a disease.”

Editor’s note for authors of submissions to Pectoriloquy: Poems should not exceed 350 words, should not have been previously published, and should be related to concerns of physicians and medicine. First submissions to the Pectoriloquy Section should be submitted via e-mail to poetrychest@aol.com. Authors of accepted poems will be asked to submit the final version to CHEST Manuscript Central.

— Michael Zack, MD, FCCP

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

© 2012 American College of Chest Physicians

Chest. 2012;141(4):1114-1117. doi:10.1378/chest.11-1168
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Published online

I have dreamt and I have planned.
Been a husband.
Am a father.
I have held the pieces of my heart in my hands
 and known that I am the cause of their
I am still here.
* * *
I have been to England, Scotland, Italy.
On Mauna Kea in the waning light and
 growing cold I have seen the telescopes
 come alive; seen the curvature of the
I have driven to Alaska.
Danced in Jerusalem.
I have poured concrete, driven 16-penny
 greencoats, built houses. I have pumped
 gas, tended bar, made a million
 margaritas. Maybe more.
I have hypothesized, randomized, and
Been stung by a stingray.
Changed a clutch.
I have bathed in mountain waters that tautened
 my skin — that remembered for weeks.
 That remembers still.
I have worked in the sun and the heat and the
 dirt; sweat; and ended my days caked in
I have lamented choices made and not made.
I have made bread.
I have sown seeds and shared what I have
 grown. I have made sauce with my Italian
I have walked on the beach in the sun with a
 bare-breasted woman; walked alone on the
 interstate at night in the rain.
I have been discouraged; been in despair.
I have sat with my father-in-law as he died,
 seen my best friend drink himself to death.
Watched the birth of my son.
I have eaten oysters live on tidal flats at
 summer solstice; seen red-tailed hawks
 harry bald eagles and crows harry
 red-tailed hawks.
I have been used; lied to; stolen from; known
betrayal; been made a fool.
Been foolish.
I have seen the milky waters of glacier-fed
 rivers, seen the Northern Lights shimmer
 and dance, raced an on-coming storm
 across a lake in a canoe.
Earned a graduate degree.
To the woman I first loved, I lost my virginity.
This is a loss I have never regretted.
From pop bottles redeemed at three and five
 cents, from mowing lawns, feeding cats,
 delivering papers; from all this I have
 saved and bought an emerald-green Peugot
 with ten speeds.
And flipped head-over-handlebars when a
 baseball lodged in the spokes and
 caught in the fork.
I have seen Sandy Koufax pitch and Willie
 Mays hit and I was there when Tony
 Gwynn played his first game.
 And his last.
In a Tuscan castle I have drunk grappa and
 listened to Elmar Oliveira play duets with
 his wife, he dressed in flip-flops and
I have held a Stradivari.
I have seen the piled bones of the Capuchin
 monks; have roasted coffee and made
I have written.
Not of cabbages, not of kings.
But yes, of many things.
 Of tomatoes and neighbors; of doctors and
  dying kids.
 Of fathers and sons; piano tuners and
  violin makers.
 Of bras, breasts, and sewers.
 Of David Douglas, for whom they named
  the Doug fir; who changed landscapes
  the world over and died on the slopes of a
  Hawaiian volcano, nearly blind, gored by a
True stuff.
All of it, true.
I have won prizes and awards.
 Not the Nobel.
 Not the Pulitzer.
 Not a Caldecott or an O’Henry.
But yes, I have plaques upon the wall.
I have reflected on Oscar Wilde’s long
 morning’s struggle over whether to put in
 a comma, and his even longer struggle
 over whether to take it out.
I have marveled that David Foster Wallace
 could make literature out of footnotes.
Of a woman he fancied, I have heard a man
 say — and this, too, is true — that he
 would “Crawl over a mountain of broken
 glass just to suck on one of the lug nuts of
 the truck that hauled her dirty laundry.”
And I have been damned impressed.
I have cried without warning at a symphony’s
 first notes of the Eroica.
From a tide pool I have plucked and held a sea
 slug, Aplysia californica — wet, slippery,
 gelatinous and purple, a living lump of
 grape jelly, moving by oozing, harmless —
 as my son with pudgy finger stroked its
I have courted women and been rejected.
And accepted.
I have planted acorns, …
 watered oaks, …
  waited, …
   had faith, …
    and imagined.
I have squandered time, money, and love.
Give or take a few, I have slept 56×365×8=
 163,520 hours in my life.
I have overslept.
I have worked 60 hours nonstop to meet a
I have been rich with love and rich with youth.
I have been responsible.
A volunteer.
Rarely, I have been content.
I have laughed. Worried.
 Had a mouth dry with fear.
 Been impatient.
Seen the Black Hills.
I have seen a salami two feet in diameter and
 Calder’s fountain of mercury, both in
I have eaten bull balls sliced and fried.
I have read Moby Dick.
I have left the car lights on and returned to
 find the battery dead.
 And I have cursed.
I have seen my son grow up.
I remember the first time I spent $100 on
 groceries — two carts’ worth and so much
 that we surprised the clerk, who told the
 next clerk over, “That’s a hundred dollars
 worth of groceries!”
No one is surprised at this anymore.
I have been seasick at home in the shower,
 hours after the boat had docked.
I have ridden a freight train through the
 Sierras, from Sacramento to Salt Lake
 City and home through Las Vegas, where
 a stranger let me use her shower.
I have thumbed a ride from a trucker carrying
 forty tons of onions.
I have seen a Guernsey cow in Guernsey.
Heard the music of children’s laughter.
I have not put down the duckie;
 never played the saxophone.
Never danced the tarantella.
From my backyard I have seen a row of seven
On Denali from afar — far afar — I
 have seen a grizzly.
I have started and not finished.
I have tried and failed.
Tried and succeeded.
Tried. Failed. Tried.
Come half-way. All that.
I have been foolish —
 I did say I had been foolish.
I have worn silly hats; hats that embarrassed
 my son.
I have seen the sign of a realtor named January
I have not seen the glory of the coming of the
I have seen a cobble break loose of its own
 and roll down a canyonside.
Geology in action.
I have run a half-marathon, owned a ‘56
 Chevy, and stood at Dante’s tomb.
I have been less than forthright.
Shaded the truth.
Been ashamed.
Been — though not in many years — cruel.
Committed schadenfreude.
I have quit jobs, useless jobs.
Been a dumbfuck.
Never been fired.
I have slept with a cat in the crook of my arm.
Seen the plays at Ashland.
Fired a shotgun.
I have never scudded or used the word
Clouds scud.
I have fixed a sewer line.
Had a nasogastric tube pushed up my nose.
Been given morphine.
Today I saw a kite high on a string and
 a bluebird in the park.
 I saw the Knights turn a triple play.
 I worked on this poem.
I have been appalled, repulsed, mortified, and
I have been irritated.
Did I say I have been irritated?
I have never held a patent.
Never been a patent holder.
I have said “Yes” when my son called to say
 he’d spent all night in line to buy playoff
 tickets and did I want to fly 3,000 miles to
 be his guest at Yankee Stadium?
“Yes,” I have said. “Yes.”
I have pulled off the road to behold a double
 rainbow; dug up wild hyacinth bulbs;
 eaten cactus; tasted breadfruit; gathered
 seeds from Rosa californica,
 our native rose.
I have cataloged my joys.
* * *
I have dreamt and I have planned.
I am still here.
And still have more to do.




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