I worked in a warehouse packing room,
Plenty of dust for the microbes there,
And the pall of the city’s pitiless gloom
Blessed the bacillus but plagued the air.
I had a mate with a flush in his cheek,
With a bit of a cough, and a bit of a spit;
I went off work at the end of the week,
And the doctor said, “My friend, you are hit.”
I told of my mate, and he said, It is rough
To be murdered thus by a man and a friend,
But a sunless room and a hacking cough,
And a spit and a dust—and you know the end:
But the end for you, it is not in sight,
For death by bacillus has slow degrees.
A cough by day and a swat by night,
And the lung turned leisurely into cheese.
Till you pray God’s mercy to stop your breath
Ere your poor eyes out of their sockets shake,
With twenty million angels of death
Sent out with each coughing your sore lungs make.
Ah! God have mercy on men who die
By the slow-drawn torture of phthisis ill;
It breaks one’s heart to be standing by
And watch how slowly the microbes kill.
“But, doctor,” I said, “is it must, is it must?
Is there not one ray of a hope for me,
Must I pass in my prime to the graveyard dust?
I’ve a wife whom I love, and children three!”
Then the doctor, sadly he shook his head,
“There is one way only to ’scape the ban;
Good air, good feeling, good rest,” he said,
“They are not at the call of a working man!”
Men talk of brotherhood, league, and guild,
Christ cared for the bodies of men, they say;
The hospital palace they rise and build,
And the sick are tended from far away.
But the home on the healthy mountain side
With the three good things the consumptive needs,
Is still to the working man denied,
Though we pray “Our Father,” and say our creeds!
(Carlisle Journal, 1 May 1903, p. 5)