Your Daily Breath

Today I had the honor of sharing a new poem during a concert preview given by the Green Mountain Youth Symphony‘s youngest orchestra at Next Chapter Bookstore in Barre, Vermont. When Conductor Paul Perley and cellist Melissa Perley reached out to me last April to partner with them, I was thrilled. A new idea for a poem had been circling around my head and I was excited to begin getting it down on paper. A few months later I sent off the first draft to Paul and Melissa who found the perfect music to go with it (that the young orchestra could play), titled A Starlit Night. 

The poem has to do with the preciousness of each of our breaths. As you will read it you will find the influence of my parents’ passing (in particular my mother’s), both of which occurred last year.

I thank Julia Shipley and Mary Jane Dickerson for their extremely helpful feedback in the crafting of this poem.

I hope you can join us next Sunday, Dec 10, 2017, at 2:00 for the full concert at the Barre Opera House, Barre, Vermont.

Your Daily Breath

I

Your breath escapes to kiss
an infant’s downy crown –
the air is filled with origins
and innocence, and with your next
intake: a new mindscape,
forever-altered state, no matter
the newborn is of your flesh,
the lamb in the barn,
the pup on the mat, the delicate,

delicate yellow chick in hand—
another breath, surprise of fear
stirs to catch in lungs, rises stung,
between heart and mouth –
hiccup of alarm –
before its slow release, relief
in holding life.

In the river valley, mist swells
where the cold has settled. You breathe
the vapor later, on a hill, alone,
despite the life that swarms.
Trees so thick they’re a curtain
you don’t dare walk behind.
Your breath disturbs all else that lives.

As witness, you watch the dog
come up from the pond; she wears
the smell of the fish she’s killed,
doing only what dogs do.

and you…

Do you remember holding your breath
as a kid with friends, defying each other,
denying yourself a gulp of air? Now you watch
a drowning man on the movie screen,
and let your chest expand, breathing
safely in your seat. You will the actor
return to air that birds’ wings
and birthday candles depend upon.

Today you take your daily breath.
Take it as you wish, or more likely,
as you can: as cough, as challenge,
as whisper, as song. Inhale a prayer,
exhale a hymn.

II

The clouds’ shadows wave across
a sunlit hill. My mother told me
she’d become the wind. I feel
her every day, sometimes as storm,
sometimes as an unexpected winter
zephyr twirling snowflakes round
to tinker with my vision. How free
she is to use her breath as dervish
dance or as a summer taunt
that breaks its promise: rain.

It’s after Independence Day; I’m deep
in the woods in early morning. The sun
finds a path through leaves that still
rain though the storm’s long past.
A stream weaves through, bursting
with the universe. I open my mouth
to gulp the air and steam escapes my lips –
December’s mirror. I vow to find
July when the snow is deep
and branches bare.

The dog buries the bone as if to share
proves submission, a giving away of breath
in the gnawing of its marrow. As if
hiding proves protection from another’s living.

And grief becomes the loudest breath of all –
with refrain and recoil; unbearable
crescendo falling into silent sob. With this
most difficult of breaths, we’re forced
to re-emerge from empty depths.

The wind comes up across the pond.
Birds hush in a slanted light
and the lid of night closes us in
to face each other. We try
in darkness to remain apart,
separate within ourselves. But the wind,
– don’t you remember who she is? –
the wind slices in through impossible slits
to lash our breaths together.