How We Learned to Breathe


We were under attack.

Phlegm-coloured fog
crept into cracks
and clung to the soot-coated walls.

It seeped through the sills
of ill-fitting windows
in wind-rattled nights,

in cahoots
with leaky coal gas mantles
of tenement closes,

mingled with black-particled air
of anthracite
or nutty slack in bunkers
or burnt in fires.

It fought to rob us,
poor and proudly clean,
of our pristine lungs

but got held at bay
as our parents hacked up coughs
and innocently puffed away,

gifting us young
a protective coating
of pleasure-filled nicotine
to clog up our flimsy defences.

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7 thoughts on “How We Learned to Breathe

  1. ugh…yes and when the time came i wonder how many followed suit just puffing away to their own cubs…this took me back to working in the tire plant…that stuff got everwhere and made some of the blackest boogers…

  2. Could barely read this…the pain we inflict on each other, especially the young. I’m paying now for that indulgence.

    • My own mum died of an aneurysm probably brought about by her smoking and my dear mother-in-law passed away two years ago from COPD after 50 years of the weed…. Yet because it was home I can look back fondly to a living room which had a perpetual blue haze about five foot off of the floor, and even now, never a smoker, enjoy the smell of tobacco

      • My goodness, this is good.
        A triversen for the most of it, and a day ahead of time.
        Obviously a form that suits you.
        You can’t say you never were a smoker: passive smoking is even more dangerous. And coal fires did for people just as much as cigarettes. And still do.Wicked.
        But what a write.

  3. A cautionary tale for sure. Given the sacrifices of past generations, to squander such gifts of life that they bestowed seems very wasteful. I enjoyed the way that you embodied the danger as though it were a malevolent being of alien origin.

    • and it isn’t over yet. Sore point as my own health is beset by neighbouring farmers’ chemical sprays, and barbecuers, fabric softeners and coal fire smoke from chimneys. Not to mention perpetual bonfires. Regulations, if they exist at all, are being flouted and never enforced. I suffer. Often to the level of despair. Nowhere to turn, no defence.Pity I can’t expel this in a poem.

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