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Pectoriloquy |

My Father Walks Five Blocks in Winter FREE TO VIEW

Amy Knox Brown, Ph.D.
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Editor’s Note:The author writes, “This poem was inspired by my father, who suffers from dementia. As you might expect, his recollections of the distant past are often quite clear; it’s the immediate, day-to-day details that escape him. I direct the English Program at the College of St. Mary in Omaha, NE.”

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


Chest. 2015;147(2):581. doi:10.1378/chest.14-1667
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Published online

Overhead, the white sky holds unfallen snow.
I stand outside, shivering, and smoke.
Five blocks away, my father steps outside
to see the sky more clearly. As he looks up,
a few flakes fall. What is the word for this white
and cold? Somewhere between his brain and lips
the term he knows–he’s always known–is gone.
In the garage, he finds the object made
of wood and tin. A stick attached to metal.
A tool to move the white and cold.
He’ll bring it to my house and ask
its name. He wraps gloved fingers
around the stick. The handle, says his brain.
That’s right: the handle in his hand.
The white and cold comes harder
as he walks. He feels each bit bite
against his face. Seventy years ago
in second grade he learned each bit
is special and unique, entirely different
from each other bit. He wonders
if this fact is really true. Fingerprints, too,
are supposed to be distinct. And ears.
His own ears are covered by a cap.
Though he can’t marshal all the words
for what happens any more, he knows
this weather in his bones, he knows
the streets he walks along, the pavement
lumped with ice that cars’ tires have packed
hard, treacherous and slick. He walks with care.
Bits of white and cold land and freeze
against his face. His plan: to bring
the object made of aluminum and wood
(the wooden handle, says his brain. Yes, that’s
right) to his daughter–me–and say, You need this?
And she will take the handle from his hand
as I do when he appears through driving wind,
his moustache frozen white. I thought
you needed this, he says and waits.
I say, It’s snowing!
         And the word
snow is what he’s walked five blocks to find,
a word that pulls everything into place: the white and cold,
the shovel in his hand. He should have known. But now
he knows again. He tells himself he won’t forget. Yes,
he says. It’s snow.


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