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My So-Called Lungs (Revisited)

One of our favorite stories from years ago has a new twist.

Laura Rothenberg spent most of her life knowing that she was going to die young. She had cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects the lungs. When she was born, the life expectancy for people with CF was around 18 years (it’s more than double that now). Laura liked to say she went through her mid-life crisis when she was a teenager.

Joe met Laura when she was 19 and gave her a tape recorder. And for two years, she kept an audio diary of her battle with cystic fibrosis and her attempts to live a normal life – with lungs that often betrayed her. Laura Rothenberg died in 2003. She was 22 years old. However, her audio diary wasn’t all she left behind.

Laura wrote countless poems over the years, documenting her life in and out of hospitals, and her reflections on her relationships. Twenty years after her death, a collection of poems has finally been published: When Poetry Visits. So, in this rendition of her audio diary, we’re featuring some of her poems, read by actress Taylor Schilling. Listen and read a sample of her poetry below. You can buy When Poetry Visits at codhillpress.com.



When Poetry Visits: Ars Poetrica

When I cough
poetry leaps with the residue
onto my right hand.
Poetry rises out of my friend’s coffin
and dives from my eyes in tears.
She dances in the Les Mis music I listen to
and streams into my lungs with the oxygen I breathe in.
She hides in my medication
And ends up in my stomach when I swallow.
When I have surgery,
poetry is in the operating room until I fall asleep
and in the recovery room to comfort me when I wake up.
Poetry spies on nurses, doctors and friends
and takes on their personas.
She lives in needles, my hospital bed and the x-ray machine,
swims on the floors the IV poles, the windows.
She tries hopelessly to find a way to leave,
but only comes home with me occasionally.
Sometimes I wish I had never met poetry,
because I must cough
for her to leap
onto my right hand.


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