A Present Annoyance

September 10, 2008 | No comments yet

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By: Dennis Bates

I coughed in her ear.

That’s all! I coughed in her ear.

Is that a sin in any religion?

Did I come home late

Smelling of another? No.

Did I forget our anniversary,

her birthday, our first date?

No. I coughed in her ear.

We were lying next to each other

and I coughed; an accident,

I didn’t do it on purpose

or out of spite

I coughed, and her ear

was there.

Had we been pressing

each other’s warm flesh

it might not have happened,

but we don’t press each

other as much anymore.

Too old,

too tired,

too full,

too fat.


not two.

I coughed in her ear

And I haven’t heard

anything from her since.

It was only a cough

and I didn’t try to,

but somehow

it dioesn’t  matter.

In the twilight kingdom

under the fading star

lips that would kiss

form only a broken jaw

and avoid speech

somewhere where Eliot’s shape

has no form

and shade has no color,

where all we do

is grope together with a whimper

somewhere between

the motion and the reality.

And all because

I coughed in her ear.

And so it will be.

But does it have to?

In the larger scheme,

and I believe there is one,

isn’t a harmless cough

something to be ignored

or at least forgiven?

In youth it would have been

so that the joy of being close,

the warmth,

the breathless excitement,

the soft love of

a sweet sensual touch

of  flesh and soul

could be enjoyed

and magnified.

All of it.

But those things got replaced

because of familiar repetition

that we chose to view

as an annoyance

rather than something

to be cherished

like it used to be. 

Too soon there is no cough

and only the creaky silence

of abject loneliness prevails,

and it doesn’t cough.

It just sits and stares

like a cat with no purr,

a barkless dog,

a bird with no song, or

a sullen child

not allowed to speak

because it is better

to be seen.

Then the only screams

in the night are your own,

and there is no one

to hold you when you are


comfort you when you are


or turn on a light when

dreams of darkness


It may not be much,

but at least I coughed,

not because I sought to annoy,

but to be near while

I still can.


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