Whooping Cough, 1952, Age 5

Whooping Cough, 1952, Age 5

I was not trusted to climb eighteen pink stairs
without fainting. I carried a porcelain bell.
Not trusted with just the washable yellow robe
(carry the green towel for cough ups).

My chest seemed so small
I didn’t know I had a heart.
I didn’t trust the brown Zenith radio
with the gold dials and sad music.

My mother said she watched me every second.
I saw her doing a crossword puzzle
facing the picture window where
chipmunks raced on the ledge.

I did not trust ginger ale
bubbles or the over-plump pillow,
the musty smell of our couch
with its pink and green carnations

or the silence of everyone-else-at-school,
just me at home, grandmother tuned
to losing Cubs games. I trusted my mother’s
fingers, cool from rearranging clanging

glass milk bottles in the fridge. I never begged
her to take down the gold-framed watercolors
of the blood and white star-gazer lilies
those pairs of ferocious,

mouth-agape lilies that wanted
to eat me.


Tricia Knoll has no patience for those who refuse to vaccinate their children. She remembers measles as a nightmare in a darkened room, but she wrote this poem remembering pertussis or whooping cough which now has a vaccine.

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