Pectoriloquy |

Embarrassment FREE TO VIEW

Susanne Braham, MA
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Editor’s Note:The author writes, “As an asthmatic child, seeing my mother using her nebulizer unleashed a bevy of emotions that eventually became this poem. I attribute both my early asthma and my mom’s unhappy lungs in part to my dad’s 2-pack-a-day habit. He eventually succumbed to lung cancer. When I’m not writing poetry, I work as an editor for Columbia University.”

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

Chest. 2014;146(2):524. doi:10.1378/chest.13-2579
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Raising up the bony hand that once tried to groom me,
she lets me know I must not take her photo with my cell.
Ancient mother, nails and hair still just so (though not now picture-perfect),
sits queen-like in her armchair, wrapped for warmth in one of many stylish robes,
while funky shades protect from fumes those aged eyes that
days gone by had looked at me askance.
She’d criticized my off-beat dress, couldn’t buy not eating meat,
snickered at my sandaled feet while she was sporting heels.
She now looks the hippie, sucking on her life-sustaining hookah.
She’d disapproved the way I wooed, said a doctor’s wife
was not for me; my lack of style could never suit his pride.
When children came, intending well, she criticized haphazard meals and chaos over bedtime.
Seething letters tried in part to sever ties the likes of which had bound her to her mother,
compromising closeness with my chain-smoking Dad.
Or so she thought, and we became estranged, by plan, revealed to me, when suddenly,
I turned the younger widow.
We’d found a common bond.
My daughter shares her love of pearls, streaks her hair and plays at golf.
Rightfully she seemed surprised when I brought home the old mink stole
her Grammy foisted on me.
In forty years she’ll understand what I cannot explain,
as sunken-cheeked, our matriarch and oldest family member
nebulizes tired lungs, congested by time, secondhand smoke,
and a heart that runs on batteries.




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