Lungs are pink and shiny, like a little baby’s tongue in the middle of her wide smile. They are healthy, without any discoloration. They are a uniform pink. There are little white patches where light bounces off of them. I think I picture lungs larger than they are, about 12 inches tall and 4 inches wide, maybe a little less than an inch thick. They are two solid masses that aren’t connected. They’re wider at the top and they get narrow as they go down. They smell clean. Not like shampoo, but like a man who has just gotten out of the shower. The kind of smell that is only a smell because you can’t smell it. Those are good smells. Lungs are wet and slick. They are spongy and porous. When you hold them in your hands, they are heavier than you expect. They are muscles, and they are strong because you have built them up with constant use. They pulse a little in your hands. They are so used to being in motion that they are confused when you remove them from your body, so they keep working. They’re like decapitated chickens running around the dusty backyard because they don’t know they’re dead. You have to keep still or the lungs will slide out of your hands and bounce to the ground. They’re wet so they’ll pick up all the dirt and dust and gravel. They’ll shrink a little against the garbage, and as they dry out, they’ll immediately start remembering when they were new and alive like a baby’s tongue.
Speaking of dirty lungs, I worry about my lungs daily. I started smoking when I was about 19, and I quit when I was 32. It makes me sick when I think about what my lungs have put up with. I feel sorry for them in the same way I feel sorry for starving children in Africa. Sincere sympathy, but no real connection or feeling of responsibility for their plight. I picture them as smaller than your lungs. They’re a uniform, lifeless gray with smudges of black and little highlights of yellow. They smell like that same man who walked out of the shower, but he’s since been fired when his company downsized. Unemployment ran out seven weeks ago. He hasn’t showered in days. His cotton sheets are soft and limp like flannel because they haven’t been washed in so long. He drinks day old, tepid coffee brewed in a stained glass coffee pot. His car is full of trash. Half empty water bottles bump around in the backseat. Crumpled fast food bags roll like tumbleweeds, and balled up aluminum hamburger wrappers leak mayonnaise at the seams. The man can’t remember what a deep breath feels like. He only inhales deeply when he smokes a cigarette. That’s the only time he pulls anything into his lungs. My lungs smell like this man and his sheets, his coffee pot, and his backseat.