A Natural History: J.M. Tyree


A Natural History of Mild Asthma

By J. M. Tyree

It could have been your love affair with London that did this to you, the spider web city of grey lungs and long walks.

Or that five-day jaunt in convenient Budapest, where you can easily see what you’re breathing.

Or was it just inhaling the Five Boroughs for five years? It couldn’t have been clean down at the Trade Center site, afterward, when National Guardsmen handed around a box of tissues under a mountain of rubble and melted buildings, and welders’ torches sprung from the faces of the half-dismantled shells. Remember the smell of the fire after it had burned for a month?

On the Outer Banks, on a college road-trip, they burned lumber from pieces of destroyed homes that washed up on the beach after a hurricane. The treated wood still flames green in the mind, like gems released by fire.

Was it the obligatory grad school cigarettes, or the incense you used to cover up the smoking, all those times in bed with you know who?

You were born with perforated lungs, but it’s never been clear whether this was caused by a birth defect or a doctor’s mistake during the delivery.

Fig. 1: Postcard of the Dohány Street Synagogue from Budapest.

Fig. 1: Postcard of the Dohány Street Synagogue from Budapest.


J. M. Tyree used to have a nice pair of wool mittens that clipped right on to his winter coat.


“A Natural History of Mild Asthma” is part of the Natural Histories Project. Click here to learn more >>


One comment

  1. Natural histories make darkness visible, show us the tiger behind the spots. Tyree’s prose colludes with the postcard to suggest what’s visible about the past. The sepia view of Buda is printed on treated wood that flames still–what’s luminous here is the no-longer-being-in-that-time. Don’t inhale. When there’s nothing there, is there some kind of aether that holds that place the way zero’s a placeholder for base ten? And is the non-presence of Jews a kind of leveraged absence? A historical footnote: the synagogue and the streetcars are still there, I think, if memory and Ryanair serve. Tyree’s style is itself incense, smoke upon smoke, pyre ritual, incantation, the syllogism of smoke leading to fire, nostalgia to perforation and loss.

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