Muriel Rukeyser

(December 15, 1913 – February 12, 1980 / New York City)

The Disease - Poem by Muriel Rukeyser

This is a lung disease. Silicate dust makes it.
The dust causing the growth of

This is the X-ray picture taken last April.
I would point out to you: these are the ribs;
this is the region of the breastbone;
this is the heart (a white wide shadow filled with blood).
In here of course is the swallowing tube, esophagus.
The windpipe. Spaces between the lungs.

Between the ribs?

Between the ribs. These are the collar bones.
Now, this lung’s mottled, beginning, in these areas.
You’d say a snowstorm had struck the fellow’s lungs.
About alike, that side and this side, top and bottom.
The first stage in this period in this case.

Let us have the second.

Come to the window again. Here is the heart.
More numerous nodules, thicker, see, in the upper
You will notice the increase : here, streaked fibrous
tissue –


That indicates the progress in ten month’s time.
And now, this year – short breathing, solid scars
even over the ribs, thick on both sides.
Blood vessels shut. Model conglomeration.

What stage?

Third stage. Each time I place my pencil point:
There and there and there, there, there.

“It is growing worse every day. At night
“I get up to catch my breath. If I remained
“flat on my back I believe I would die.”

It gradually chokes off the air cells in the lungs?
I am trying to say it the best I can.
That is what happens, isn’t it?
A choking-off in the air cells?

There is difficulty in breathing.
And a painful cough?

Does silicosis cause death?

Yes, sir.

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, December 15, 2011

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