The first breath was my last: at the threshold I felt it seeping through the minuscule opening between jam and door as I reached for the bolt, tempering the cool air with its searing fingertips. The second breath, as the door opened, filled my lungs with a desert’s dryness, sinking to the pit of my stomach and making me want to retch. The third breath—I was at the precipice now, only steps from truly entering the world—came with raw heat striking my skin, slipping through the fibers of my clothes and tearing at my pores. The fourth, as I stepped into the sun, struck like a whip to my back, white paint onto black, a lion poised to attack. I staggered forward, my hands reaching, my eyes reduced to blurry forms of faded colors before me: is this all the world has to offer? Is this our destiny, drab and delusional? Saturated with life but devoid of the living?
The fifth breath took me to my knees, hands flailing over pavement, nails caught on stone slivers and lifted from the flesh, agonizing screams lost in a desiccated world.
Is this the emptiness borne of no inspiration? Is this my suffocation when I cannot write?
The tree across the street was once lush and full of vibrant leaves
that rattled in the wind, shushing the cars on the black asphalt
between us. Once in a few winters, white snow would collect on its branches
and in spring storms, small limbs would litter the grass-covered hill
beneath it. Last year it stood tall and plump like cotton candy
brown boughs reaching out like wisps of pink sugar and just as sweet
until lightning or wood cutters or landscapers, I have no idea
cut off half its branches and left it a lopsided sentry
that I stare at every day. If I open my hand, fingers flared wide
then tuck away my forefinger and thumb, I can cover the tree
so only the skies remain jutted against old brick houses
with dark roofs, a metal fence running into the horizon
and blankets of fraying grass from one telephone poll to the next.
Once the tree was just a tree and I hardly noticed it
but now it stands out, an anomaly, broken, half-whole
unusual. A blemish on the block. But if I raise my other hand
and instead cover the missing piece, the image appears whole again
one half now assumed arm in arm with the other. We’re not so different
this tree and me: we’re only half here, half standing, half living
something missing, an illusion entirely real, separated one body from another
hidden out of sight and left yearning for our inevitable reunion.