Coughing Up Sympathy
On the commuter train
One damp winter’s dawn –
Quiet except for the tinny beats
Leaking out of headphones
And the rustle of turning freepaper adverts –
A man gets on with a racking cough
And coughs continually for three whole stops.
People strain to look, some kiss teeth,
A few mutter in irritation,
Some even cover their mouths to shun the germs
Of this medieval plague victim,
Anachronistically rasping and hacking
His dry windpipe amidst this tube of strangers.
against their better nature
Throats parch and tickle
and other people start to cough too
In sympathetic fraternity.