Pectoriloquy |

Her Nails Were Dirty FREE TO VIEW

Liz Ann Young, MFA, Creative Writing
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Editor’s Note: The poet writes, “This poem is based on an encounter that happened in New Orleans when I was about 10 years old. My family traveled there together while my father, a pulmonologist, attended a conference. I received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.”

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

Chest. 2013;143(5):1508. doi:10.1378/chest.12-1528
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Stained clothes and matted hair, she zig-zagged
   across the mall clutching
      stuffed shopping bags.
Ten o’clock in the air-conditioned night,
   the mall fighting off the humidity of the Mississippi.
My hands were blue and sticky
   from a single scoop Superman,
high off sugar and staying up past my bedtime,
hair in a rushed ponytail from my mother
   to keep out the ice cream.
I knew I wasn’t supposed to stare at her,
   but a purple sequin chain from my souvenir mask
had fallen over my eye
   already cheap and shabby,
the green and yellow feathers
   folding over, tickling my bangs.
She made her way closer,
   the shopkeepers trying to casually shut their gates
   before she got to them.
At Buy You Scoops
   she told the man behind the counter
   that his dog was going to die,
swaying in my vision across the sequins
   like a tightrope master.
We knew it was coming.
My mother shifted her purse into her lap.
My grandmother’s voice
   dropped to a whisper.
she came to our table.
   Stood right next to it.
My dad said hello.
Suddenly turning to me,
she stood unnaturally still,
locked her sharp green eyes to mine.
And no matter how many times later that night my dad explained
the voices she heard, that she wasn’t really talking to me,
   as much as I didn’t know what she meant
       or which detail insulted me more,
   as much as I laugh about it fifteen years later,
the faded mask is still on my dresser.
I never forgot the words:
You little boy, you’re as ugly as your mama.




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