Fact Sheet for Coughs

Fact Sheet for Coughs

Doctors classify coughs by duration,
character, quality, and timing—

like you might rate lovers,
past and present, for better or worse.

Through thick and thin, productive coughs
yield sputum, a giving up

of mucous expectorated from
upper airways. Etymology: Latin

Ex—“out” + pectus, pector—“breast.”
Something you must, so

to speak, get off your chest. But
the best cough also shields,

cleaves, protects—a necessary, almost
paramour, reflex. Blocking

those ubiquitous viral & bacterial agents
of death from your deepest

lungs, where pneumonia—“the old widow’s
friend”—brings such lonely

suffering to a quick, quiet, painless
end. Complications, acute and chronic,

include fainting, burst vessels,
bloodshot eyes, and fatigue fractures

of the lower ribs—proof that we can, over
time, cough until we break.

Frankly, it’s hard to tell
whether each aching, irresistible heave

says—mid-spasm—live, live, give, expel,
hope, hurt, die, or rest.