Breathing, by Ellery Akers

I just came across this poem and I LOVE it.


I love to feel as if, I’m just another body, a breather along with the others:

blackbirds taking sips of air, garter snakes

lapping it up with their split tongues,

and all those plants

that open and close and throw up streamers of oxygen:

maybe that cottonwood that tilts across the creekbed

is the very one that just sucked up carbon dioxide

and let me breathe, maybe I should hang a card around it,

Thank you for the next two minutes of my life,

maybe some of the air I just swallowed used to be inside the hot larynx of a fox,

or the bill of an ash-throated flycatcher,

maybe it just coursed past

the scales of a lizard—a blue-belly—

as he wrapped himself around his mate,

maybe he took an extra breath and let it out

and that’s the one I got.

Maybe all of us are standing side by side on the earth

our chests moving up and down,

every single one of us, opening a window,

loosening a belt, unzipping a pair of pants to let our bellies swell,

while in the pond a water beetle

clips a bubble of air to its shell and comes back up for another.

You want sanitary? Go to some other planet:

I’m breathing the same air as the drunk Southerner,

the one who rolls cigarettes with stained yellow thumbs

on the bench in the train station,

I’m breathing the same air as the Siamese twins

at the circus, their heads talking to each other,

quarreling about what they want to do with their one pair of hands

and their one heart.

Tires have run over this air,

it’s passed right over the stiff hair of jackrabbits and roadkill,

drifted through clouds of algae and cumulus,

passed through jetprops,

blades of helicopters,

through spiderlings that balloon over the Tetons,

through sudden masses of smoke and sulfur,

the bleared Buick filled with smoke

from the Lucky Strikes my mother lit, one after another.

Though, as a child, I tried my best not to breathe,

I wanted to take only the faintest sips,

just enough to keep the sponges inside,

all the lung sacs, rising and falling.

I have never noticed it enough,

this colorless stuff I can’t see,

circulated by fans, pumped into tires,

sullenly exploding into bubbles of marsh gas,

while the man on the gurney drags it in and out of his lungs

until it leaves his corpse and floats past doorknobs

and gets trapped in an ice cube, dropped into a glass.

After all, we’re just hanging out here in our sneakers

or hooves or talons, gripping a branch, or thudding against the sidewalk:

as I hold onto my lover

and both of us breathe in the smell of wire screens on the windows

and the odor of buckeye.

This isn’t to say I haven’t had trouble breathing, I have:

sometimes I have to pull the car over and roll down the window,

and take in air, I have to remember I’m an animal,

I have to breathe with the other breathers,

even the stars breathe, even the soil,

even the sun is breathing up there,

all that helium and oxygen,

all those gases blowing and shredding into the solar wind.

– Ellery Akers


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