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PLUMLY, Stanley


The Iron Lung


So this is the dust that passes through porcelain,

so this is the unwashed glass left over from supper,

so this is the dust in the attic, in August,

and this is the down on the breath of the sleeper


If we could fold our arms, but we can’t.

If we could cross our legs, but we can’t.

If we could put the mind to rest.

But our fathers have put this task before us.


I can neither move nor rise.

The neighborhood is gathering, and now

my father is lifting me into the ambulance

among the faces of my family. His face is


a blur or a bruise and he holds me

as if I had just been born. When I wake

I am breathing out of all proportion to myself.

My whole body is a lung; I am floating


above a doorway or a grave. And I know

I am in this breathing room as one

who understands how breath is passed

from father to son and back again.

At night, when my father comes to talk,

I tell him we have shared this body long enough.

He nods, like the speaker in a dream.

He knows that I know we are only talking.


Once there was a machine for breathing.

It would embrace the body and make a kind of love.

And when it was finished it would rise

like nothing at all above the earth


to drift through the daylight silence.

But at dark, in deep summer, if you thought you heard

something like your mother’s voice calling you home,

you could lie down where you were and listen to the dead.