Lung Cancer in Reverse Times-Lapse Photography

March 15, 2017
Richard M. Berlin, MD

Volume 34, Issue 3

At three breaths before death a blue latex hand pulls out a trach tube, a blade skims over the zipped up hole, and droplets of blood are sucked into skin...

 

At three breaths before death

a blue latex hand pulls out a trach tube,

a blade skims over the zipped up hole,

and droplets of blood are sucked into skin.

The patient exhales, rises from bed and walks backwards,

out of the hospital into a car rolling

in reverse, smoke puffing from his mouth

in little clouds, each puff pulled into

the burning red tip of a white cigarette

which grows longer and longer before

he packs them one by one into a box,

the boxes arranged into cartons, cartons

into crates, men carting them

backwards, loading them on trucks

driving rear-end-first to factories

in Carolina and Kentucky where paper

unwinds and shredded tobacco flows

through blades and comes out whole,

the leaves returned to barns where

they hang sweet and moist in the hot

fall sun before ten foot plants are dug

into rich brown earth, shrinking

as summer cools to spring

until all that remains are a thousand

tiny seeds held in a farmer’s hand.

Continued on page 2 >>

 

And the man who made the clouds

becomes younger with each puff,

gains muscle and fat, stained teeth

brightening from yellow to white,

the red gristle of tumor and blood

vessels shrinking from a mass

to a little lump, a few wild cells,

to a broken strand of DNA.

His hand reaches up to his face

over and over again, as if

he is blowing a million kisses,

and the lines in his face soften,

his hair grows in gray, changes

to brown, and he becomes younger

and younger until the smoking stops.

In the last scene he is three,

riding a tricycle backwards

in a cul-de-sac where houses

are dismantled from roof to basement,

and their foundation holes are filled

with earth. And the subdivision

becomes a tobacco field, the rich

brown dirt warming in the spring

sun, his mother cradling her child

in her arms, the future as bright

as the gleam in their eyes.