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ELEGY FOR R.J.

for Doug

I recall your father's yellow fingers
and the incremental gurgle
in his throat. When he came home

at night, we could hear him
wheezing as his key turned
in the lock; we could hear
his business coming in —
the phlegm and mucous
sagging in his lungs,
his skipping cough —
no mistake it was your father.

His breathing made a rhythm
to the clang and rumpling paper bags,
the clink of soda cans and beer
he lugged in from the car.

With your two cats leaping
into holes between the floor joists,
we could tell your dad's approach
by the tumble in his lungs and
we would giggle at the sound.

We could hear the regent of tobacco
climb the bottom step of his voice
when he called your name
with hunger in his breathing.

Then later on, sitting out behind
the shed to have a smoke ourselves,
we would snicker at the sound;
we wanted to repeat his gurgle.

      — Scott Reid