Brown Lung

Rash, Ron

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Terry, James
  • Date of entry: Nov-01-1996


Sometimes I'd spend the whole night coughing up / what I'd been breathing all day at work. With this beginning to a 20-line poem, the author presents the plain, straightforward suffering of a laborer with lungs damaged as a result of his job in a cotton mill. The doctor he consults simply advises that he get a different job, at which the speaker scoffs: "as if / a man who had no land or education / could find himself another way to live." His foreman more humanely transfers him to an outside position loading boxcars. But the damage has been done: "I'd still wake / gasping for air at least one time a night. / When I dreamed I dreamed of bumper crops / of Carolina cotton in my chest."


Rash captures the resignation of many who are occupationally injured, the fatalism without bitterness that people with more education and resources sometimes find hard to understand.


The author was a 1994 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.

Primary Source

Poet Lore, Vol. 91, No. 2, Summer (1996)


The Writer's Center

Place Published

Bethesda, Md.