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Pectoriloquy |

Hidden Meanings FREE TO VIEW

Terry Cox-Joseph
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Editor’s Note: The poet writes, “This was written when my mother was diagnosed with carcinoma on her tongue, caused by a combination of tobacco and alcohol. Half of her tongue was removed, and the rest was treated with radiation. She took most of her meals through a stomach feeding tube. Our relationship had been formal and cold. I wrote this poem after she told me she loved me.” Terry Cox-Joseph freelances from her home in Newport News, Virginia. She is a former newspaper reporter.

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

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


Chest. 2012;142(4):1069. doi:10.1378/chest.11-2849
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Published online

Mom says “I love you” on the telephone now. I only heard it once
before, as I walked out the door for school. She grabbed my arm,
demanded a kiss. I hesitated. Despite morning toothpaste, her
hangover and cigarette breath threatened. Her forehead furrowed—
What’s wrong? My friends say that I should kiss you before you outgrow it.
Too late for me. She wasn’t watching when I figured out that she filed
shoulds and oughts like three-by-five cards in a recipe box, crib notes
for sincerity. Joyless, I obeyed. Better this than another argument. Better
than looking like a bratty teenager. Better keep the peace. Better
that I allowed nature to follow its natural course when she forgot
friends’ advice and I returned to shutting the back door behind me
without a staged goodbye. In one week, surgeons will remove
most of her tongue, cutting out cancer that creeps along pink
tastebuds. This time, the words she speaks are not a demand. Her voice
trembles. Twenty-five years later, she still has an agenda. My mind substitutes
her real meaning: I’m scared. Fledglings both, I allow
her to practice on me. “I love you, too,” I reply, meaning,
I would never wish this on anyone.


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