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Breath • 呼吸 • Respiro • نفس

By Erin Liana Johnson

PROMPT—During Covid-19 ...

I am newly conscious of my breath.

I am picturing how bronchioles and alveoli

look like the branches or roots of trees,

and imagining the molecules of oxygen in blood and salt water.

I am hearing the sigh of waves on the shore.

I am thinking about how we are all held

in liquid, like tiny sea creatures,

for the first nine months of our lives,

and that once we are born,

we can drown.

I am conscious of the currents passing over and through my thin skin.

And that insects breathe

in their shells and carapaces,

and that snakes taste the air.

That everything furred, feathered, and scaled inhales and exhales,

even crocodiles.

How we breathe in

to fill ourselves with readiness,

and breathe out to

scream, whisper, sing, speak, moan.

How many different kinds of breath there are.

How we can end each other

so easily

by taking it away,

and we’re the only known species

to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

We can literally breathe life into

each others bodies.

There is always enough oxygen on this planet,

we just forget how to use it properly.

I’m remembering that traditional Chinese medicine

instructs us that grief inhabits the lungs,

and that grief unexpressed

sometimes fills

every sense so overfull

that we forget the simplest and most vital of rhythms.

And I wonder if the earth has forgotten too.

But then I remember

that the petals of the flowers

open and close,

open, and close.

That leaves curl and uncurl.

The fog rolls out and back in again.

Stones, and glaciers


How very slow that all seems to me,

and how fast I might seem to them.

And how we all move in

and out.

In, and out.




For as long as we can.


Erin Liana Johnson has a BA in Literature from the College of Creative Studies in Santa Barbara, CA where she won the Richardson Poetry Prize and the Spectrum Poetry Award in 2006. Recently published works include “Kinship” (Tiny Seed Literary Journal, May, 2020), “Birth Blessing” and “Leo’s Promise” (Other Worldly Women’s Press, Summer Anthology, 2020.). Erin lives in the Central Coast of California where she works as an Associate Clinical Counselor, healer, and poet.


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