Tuesday, May 25, 2010


by Gideon O. Burton

Lugubrious and patient as he slimes
his dark and viscous weight within my head.
He tugs his bitter taffy mass in crimes
of pressured pain and dripping dread.
A hundred tissues bruised with blasting blows,
and yet he lingers, stranding strands of crust;
gelatinous stalactites, grainy flow,
replacing brains with miles of muck and must.
In sour thickness smears my throat and lungs,
his wiggling jelly clogs each passageway–
I cough up gooey golf balls on my tongue;
in rasping pleas my alveoli pray.
     My phlegmy enemy, you shall not run:
     with antihistamines I end your fun.

Feel free to copy, imitate, remix, or redistribute this poem as long as you give proper acknowledgment of authorship. Photo: flickr - G.J. Charlet III

Okay, let me explain. First of all, this is not a photo of me, nor of my children. I'm grateful to the photographer who reached for his camera before a wash rag. The little nipper has a kind of world-weary stare on him I find authentic, something akin to the exhaustion some of us have felt from the drain and pain of this particular bodily fluid. "Why should I wipe?" he seems to say. "More will just be coming." Indeed. Maybe he is just braver than the rest of us. Keepin' it real.

Why write a poem about snot? Is it not a cruel bastardization to transform a sonnet into a snot-et? Perhaps. I wrote this when I felt a lot like this little kid looks, and my defense is that I believe that literature is equipment for living (as Kenneth Burke said). Some people cope by way of heavy doses of decongestants; I cope with stanzas of iambic pentameter. So there.

A word about the first word. I had no idea what the word "lugubrious" meant when I wrote the poem. Don't even know how it popped into my head. Turns out it means "overly mournful." Go figure. The opening image of my poem is about a grieving booger. How tacky (literally!). But I left the word in there out of sheer sound value. I mean, listen to that word! Looo-gooo-bri-us. That is the sound of snot forming, an aural snapshot of that dark, goopy reality. So the word stayed. And I'm done apologizing. If you hate the poem, sneeze at it and move on...


  1. Okay, that photo is just awesome. And the sonnet, well I'll just say that I have SO been there.

  2. Professor! I sent this to my mom in the Spring (right after you wrote it), and she remembered it and requested I read it to my family tonight as part of our after-FHE (the less spiritual portion of the night!)...Congrats, you've made your mark on my family's literary radar! Thanks for the snot-et =)