“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
Breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Hold for a count of seven. Exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. How do you feel? Calmer? This is one of the exercises prescribed by Dr. Andrew Weil, specializing in alternative and complimentary medicine. It is known that we breathe on average of 22,000 times a day. Every breath is a testimony to life, and because it brings in oxygen, it’s also a chance for healing, both physically and emotionally.
Native American culture believes our spirit is not connected until we take our first breath, and that it is a gateway to spirituality, serving as a bridge between mind and body. Because the breath is a natural place to put our attention it can easily be called upon to slow ourselves down. This is vital for the ever-increasing anxiety in our society.
Poetry is like breathing. Poet and educator Annie Finch writes, “lines of poetry the world over, whether based in accentual, syllabic, accentual-syllabic, tonal, or other prosodies, tend to come out about the same length—the length of a breath.”
Poetry, with its crafted lines, white space, imagery, rhythm, and voice give the reader an opportunity to breathe more slowly, deeply, and quietly. Many of the poems in this quarterly’s collection not only create the space for breath, but refer to this vital life-source.
Sascha Feinstein recounts the fabled telling of how the Taj Mahal was conceived, and humorously points out: Like most “last breath” stories, this one’s a good lie:. But Neil Silberblatt’s ”The Visit (for Joe G.)” is not like most, and poignantly describes a hospital visit to his friend with terminal cancer where his friend’s lips are slightly open: …the door and lips/were both ajar,/parted slightly to let others/know you were still breathing. The idea of one’s “last breath” can be unsettling, overwhelming, and sad. How do we say good-bye? Silberblatt’s poem goes on to read: I wanted to rub your hands/or a rosary, but/did not know which knuckle or bead/represented grace/and which/the hour of our parting.
When Miriam O’Neal reflects on self in her autobiographical poem “Change” she recalls she felt the way the space between us/opened again, and closed, and opened/as simply as breathing. The breath is natural just as self-love should be natural. Sometimes, though, it’s not simple, and as Lori Levy proclaims in “Just This”, there may be No operas in my lungs today.
Perhaps, as d.ellis phelps writes in “every bone”:
every bone knows: the underworld
tends its own
But Joan K. Harmon might say every bone also knows of its reliance on breath for movement and wonder as she questions in “On My 75th Birthday”: Is our life “The Hubble” that meditates/In ever-widening worlds?
We take breathing for granted, as we might take a janitor for granted. Contributor Danny Barbare is a janitor for his local doctor’s office, and he also writes poetry. His poem, titled ‘The Janitor” gives us a glimpse of the person behind the trash can. And Jeff Oaks gives us a glimpse of a mouse, a heart as small as in “The Mouse.” He describes his discovery, the pills of its waste like lint, and how he held his breath in the dim light of the middle of my life. Holding our breath presents an intense awareness of who we are or where we might be going. Again, breath meeting spirit. Just as Barbara Siegel Carlson admits in “Joseph Cornell Tries to Explain”: I lost myself, and my breath/couldn’t hold onto or let go of the bodies/of the stars that tore through it.
Miriam O’Neal praises the feathery snare of [her]husband’s breath in sleep. She ends this poem with a double chant: All Amens./All Amens. With the recent celebration of Thanksgiving and the joys of the holiday season near, I third that motion. Let us breathe deeper, slower, quieter. Let us give thanks to our breath and to life.
Wishing you all a wonderful season of joy and peace.