TWO COUGHS

Edvard Munch, "The Sick Child" Lithograph, 1896

The little boy won’t stop coughing

All night it wracks his tiny body

like a drummer rehearsing

in a small room

& now as if by magic

it splits into

two coughs

You who have had children

know one

You who spend their lives on high alert

for any chirp of distress

whose body is attuned to those alarms

& feels them almost as if they were

happening to you & even when your child

calls long distance you do not miss

that careful little catch that means

someone has gotten inside them

& is turning something sharp

How do we stop this dread

this looking over edges

This knowledge we cannot spare them

& finally this listening

That is one cough

The rest of you will only hear

a memory

You may think Poor Kid

What did he have?

Upper respiratory?

Pneumonia?

But you will never follow that

hook sound into the dark

sit on the small bed

hold the soggy hot child

like a ticking bomb

who coughs & sees your face

& croaks Don’t worry

It will stop

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