Breathe, they said, as I was born. Lungs inflating, first rush streaming in, stinging my insides.
Cough, splutter, wail in fury, as I struggle to catch my first breath.
Breathe, they said, as I am rubbed dry, every nerve ending screaming, eyes screwed shut,
Fists tight, I am fighting. A familiar voice: Is she breathing? I breathe my first.
Breathe, they said, but all is too bright, too loud, too heavy, too cold, too dry.
I am placed, belly down, on soft warm flesh.
Hiccoughing gasps slow. Breathe in her skin. How warm she smells. Breathe in home.
Climb, my spirit tells me. With each breath I squirm and crawl, raising my head to peer into the unknown.
Breathe, she said, as I finally land with a bump on strangely familiar breast and begin to greedily suckle
Warm, creamy perfection. It tastes of home and so, in my excitement, I forget to breathe.
She strokes my back, she traces the outline of my ear with a delicate finger, she whispers in tones I know well.
And I relax, lulled by the rise and fall of her breathing. Suck…swallow…breathe.
Breathe, she said, as I stand, consumed with rage and confusion. Injustice stinging my eyes like acid.
She sits beside me, waiting for the storm to pass. Holds me as I lie, each breath catching in my throat,
Each trembling exhale leaving me exhausted and spent, yearning for a time when I can speak my truth.
Slow release of angry air lets muscles relax and I grow heavy in her arms; eyelashes rest on flushed, wet cheeks.
Breathe, they said, as I learned to walk, and run and swim and ride a bike.
Breathe, they said as I faced each new fear: to inhale, or not to inhale, that is the question.
I wrote my name in the frosty mist from my breath on the window. I felt the hot breath of a lover on my neck
And the fetid stench of those who pushed their unwanted bodies against mine.
Breathe, the guru said, as I learn to still my body and mind, to send my breath to where it is needed.
I sit, grounded, as my belly rises and falls. In my mind’s eye I watch the wisps of my breath curling like ribbons.
I allow each breath to sink me deeper, velvet calm enveloping me as each cool inhale cleanses my mind.
Breathe, they say, with each yoga pose, as I feel the life inside stretch in harmony.
Breathe, they said, as another wave builds in my belly, more powerful now, threatening to engulf me.
Breathe, she said, just breathe it through. But it pulls me under. I am drowning. I panic and thrash to find the surface.
A hand on my shoulder, a gentle voice in my ear, the rhythmic whisper of her breath on my cheek.
I am lulled. I mirror her breath. She is my life raft. I float as each wave swells and crashes on the shore of my womb.
Keep Breathing, they said as Sometime, Never, Maybe, When. Now, I am breathing down,
Breath catching in my throat, undeniable, all encompassing. I think I will break, split, die – I wonder if I am already dead.
Short breaths, she said, excitement in her voice. I hardly hear her. Puff, pant, blowing candles and suddenly,
With one last ecstatic, erratic, relief-filled moan, something hot and wet is in my arms.
Breathe they said, as many years later, I float in the liminal space between here and who knows where.
Holding on to my gnarled hands, smoothing my covers, plumping my pillows,
They try to make me drink, and whisper, keep breathing, stay with us. They are holding on tight.
But I am too tired to be their raft anymore. Time for them to breathe on their own.
Breathe, they said, as I breathe my last.