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Pectoriloquy |

Deep Mercy FREE TO VIEW

Joanne M. Clarkson, RN
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Editor’s Note: Ms Clarkson writes, “This poem is based on a story told to me by one of my patients about his grandparents about 70 years ago in Montana. I worked for many years as a professional librarian. After caring for my mother through a long illness until her death, I re-careered as an RN. I currently work in Hospice and Community Nursing.”

Reproduction of this article is prohibited without written permission from the American College of Chest Physicians. See online for more details.


Chest. 2012;142(1):261. doi:10.1378/chest.11-2394
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Published online

Copper, his life given for this
shine. Now he goes even deeper
into the wet collapse of lungs,
hunting, desperate, for any vein of air.
The miner, retired, slumps over his
coffee mug, gasping like the rainbow trout
he cast on Montana’s riverbanks.
She is at the range, stirring, watching
sideways, her air wrinkling
into his, so that as she forces out
breath, she panics and calls it back.
She packed his lunch for thirty-five years,
worrying while he headed for shafts
where, beyond daylight, he harvested the stuff of
wire, bullets and pennies.
He is coughing again, shaking the table,
sloshing coffee, hot, onto his hands.
She moves across the kitchen, then,
knowing he is ready.
“May I lay upon you one more time my husband?”
Weary as habit, he follows her up
impossible stairs, stopping on every other one
to wheeze and pant, collect enough
wind for one more tread
toward the room where he hasn’t slept for years.
The ceiling sighs, the bedsprings creak
once, then again, as she drapes her body
over his, presses down, breasts to chest,
so that no amount of will can make
it rise. Silence, then weeping. An old
remedy. A kindness, really.


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