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  • Writer's pictureStacie Eirich

Breath


Claude Monet (1840–1926), Spring, 1886, oil on canvas, 64.8 x 80.6 cm, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Public domain image.


I turn the pages sideways

write across across rather than down —

a horizon of light rather than rush

of rainfall. Listen to the melody of strings sliding

through air, a shifting in my soul with the rising

of a cello. Its solo, melancholic and strong

an ascending scale climbing rungs

of branches to light. A soft break-through

a quiet opening of clouds to the music

of hopefulness, of humanity’s heart —

our hearts born of nature’s breath.

The breath that holds in it wings and bones and histories

of time: the knowledge of all life, all creatures.

The breath that wraps us in warmth, covers us in cold.

It is silent, then whispers, then sings the song

of a nightingale. Soft and dark, rising into fluttering wind

lifting before the dawn.

What is this music within us since birth

the music that rises with the sun

the call of a lark echoing

across blue feathered skies?

This music of breath, of intake and release

of air into lungs and out

into the world.

The breath of birds, of creatures and flowers,

of grasses and trees.  Of all that’s living

and all that’s true.

And this is the heart of it.

Truth.

How can we live in truth, live our truth?

I look into the blue sky streaked

with white lace, feel the sunlight shifting towards me.

Stand still in it, raise my face to its warmth, listen

to the breath of winter releasing — feel the exhale of air

from my body, wait for

the slowness — the newness

the beauty — the music

the wonder — the light

the comfort — the healing  

the tenderness of Spring

to reach me, to fill me, to bring me back

to this breath, to this life, to a melody

changed yet rising still, an unfinished story

flowing through me in sustained

notes, legato, mellifluous

then a spark of accidentals, of flighty staccatos

shimmering blue flecked with gold.

I open my wings, breathe

through bareness, emerge

into daylight, sing breath

into beauty, sing peace

into presence, sing love

into light, into

life


Copyright @Stacie Eirich February 26, 2024

 

On a sunny day at the end of January, when it began to feel a little closer to spring, I wrote the first draft of this poem while in a therapist’s office waiting area. It was a day where a bit of warmth and sunlight offered hope, and a few moments in a quiet space offered the poem’s title: Breath. 


Revised outdoors in early February, looking into a day once again light and lovely under a bare blue sky, it’s a poem ripe with birdsong and the coming season. There is a tenderness running through it, self-transformation and seasonal transformation, a rebirth. My revision is no doubt also influenced by my current reading of the book: ‘Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity and Change’ by Maggie Smith, particularly the idea of transformation from grief, from one season of life to another — and being at the start of a new, changed life.


And this is exactly where so many of us are, no matter the type of grief or what season it is on the calendar. Every day, we are putting one foot in front of the other and moving, moving towards our futures. Those futures are scary, unknown — and offer us so much space to build something new. And that something new might just be beautiful, if we have the courage to not only imagine it but do it. To take a breath and let light in, let love in, let change in — to our lives. 


Breath is necessary; when we are born it is the first thing we do — and when we die it will be the last thing we do. There is breath in nature that is as essential as the oxygen we breathe to stay alive. This poem is one of nature but also of humanity, of how the world changes and we change. This is a poem about living, just as Smith’s book title and mantra ‘Keep Moving’ is about being alive.


I’ve spent a lot of the last 16 months since my child’s cancer diagnosis thinking about what it means to be alive. I’ve seen my life as a mother flash in my mind like a film reel, from my children’s births to their first steps, their toddlerhood, their first school days, their summer vacations, days spent painting and swimming and swinging and kicking and leaping: all the sweet and silly, all the love and laughter, all the tiny tears and frustrations. 


And then the film in my mind stops — though the reel is turning still. It doesn’t end because they are teens, or because now I’m officially middle-aged, or because we find ourselves negotiating a move only months after coming home. It doesn’t end because one of my children was diagnosed with cancer, or because we had to fight like hell for that child to be alive today. It doesn’t end because we still have a fight to remain alive, to keep moving everyday — creating this life together anew. 


There is a flow and music to our lives that keeps playing and moving with us as we go. We are writing our stories anew with the passage of seasons, revising and rewriting our histories since the dawn of time, creating ourselves and the world anew every time we feel the rebirthing of ourselves. Every time we are revising and reshaping how we see ourselves and the world. And this feels as essential as our songs and dances are to our histories, as needful as prayer and healing are to our souls, as vital as food, water and sunlight are to our bodies. 


Perhaps this is what I need, what we all need, in order for the film reels in our minds to continue rolling.


1.     Music


Music for the days when silence is sorrow, and you need to sing in some light.


2.     Movement


Movement for the days when without it, you’d be frozen in grief.


3.     Belief


Belief for the days when your heart needs to know you can do this, one small step at a time.


4.     Connection


Connection for the days when you need to remember that you are not in this world or this life alone.


5.     Sustenance


Sustenance to keep your body filled and well so you can take care of yourself and your loved ones.


6.     Light


Light for the days when shadows loom over you like specters, threatening to hold you back from living the life you have yet to live. 


To be honest, some days I’m not sure whether we are moving forward, ‘living life’ — or stepping back, still ‘living life’ within the walls of the clinic. A part of us is still there, even as we keep moving into the future. But there isn’t a day we’re not turning on some music, doing some little dances and finding ways to keep moving into this new life together. 


At our house, the preferred playlists are from the 1980s, 1990s and Broadway shows — and the dance moves are just as colorful as the songs. Our kitchen, now filled with an array of vegetables from kale to sweet peppers to bok choy to eggplant — is a place of flavor and experimentation. And right now, our living room is littered with pink, purple, gold, and green beads, big purple hats, blue masks and lighted scepters: the spoils of Mardi Gras parades. We are moving, and we are living


Will my children always like the music of my childhood? Will they embrace a vegetarian diet? Will they remember the summer vacations and Mardi Gras experiences of their childhoods? Maybe. Maybe not. 


But maybe, just maybe, they’ll feel a little light when they hear Michael Jackson or The Cranberries, dance along to Rodgers & Hammerstein or Sondheim — and smile when they see leafy greens, rainbow peppers and purple plants on the menu. Maybe they’ll keep some of those shiny beads: hang them on their bedposts, string them in a frame. 


And maybe, just maybe, they’ll remember to pay attention to Breath, let the light in — and live, in the best way they can. And that will be enough


Thank you for being here, and for reading. If you’d like to listen to this poem and the thoughts that followed it — you can find the audio on my podcast, Poetry for Peace, Season 4: A New Dawn — available on Spotify, Apple, Amazon, Google & more.


In light,

Stacie


*Post Script* My child is a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  If you’d like to follow our journey to a cure, visit: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/hopeforsadie


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