The Morning Routine

By Mark O'Brien 1949–1999 Mark O'Brien
I tell my attendants,
Right there,
When they rub me where it itches.
They rub for a few seconds, then move on,
There’s so much of it to wash,
“It” being me, a former person,
Now something that must be washed every day
In so little time.
Fifty minutes outside my breathing machine,
And all I can do is stare
As my breath recedes like the woman
Who would not love me.
It’s almost over,
I say over and over to myself
As soon as the machine is turned off.
An idiotic mantra perhaps,
But it helps when the ache descends into my eyes
And my words quit coming out right.
Left hand, I say.
Right foot? the attendant says, guessing.
I begin to fantasize about gusts of air
Rushing down my windpipe with hurricane force.
Garish and impossible, they’re respiratory porn.
My re-entry is stalled
By the attendant straightening a sheet
That no one will see.
Enraged, I squeeze my eyes closed.
Never mind.
Once back in and turned on,
I cough violently and with conviction.
Shocked by the force of the inrushing air,
I feel my lungs expand like birthday balloons,
My terror-flattened mind pops up into 3-D,
As I return to the land of breathing.
                                                                                                January, 1990

Mark O’Brien, "The Morning Routine" from The Man in the Iron Lung. Copyright © 1997 by Mark O’Brien.  Reprinted by permission of Lemonade Factory Press.

Source: The Man in the Iron Lung (Lemonade Factory Press, 1997)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Mark O'Brien 1949–1999


Subjects Living, Health & Illness, The Body, The Mind

 Mark  O'Brien


Poet and journalist Mark O’Brien was born in Boston and raised in Sacramento, California. He contracted polio when he was six years old; the disease left him paralyzed from the neck down, and he used an iron lung to breathe. He earned a BA and an MA from the University of California–Berkeley. An advocate of independent living for disabled people, O’Brien was a frequent contributor to newspapers, writing columns on such topics as . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, The Body, The Mind


Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.