Just Breathe

Will I ever dare to pray for something real or will I stay at the sill,
looking out, wanting to know who is looking back?

I write letters folded as boats,
dropped into the stream at midnight.

Drifting somewhere between map and maelstrom,
should I ask for my thirst to be quenched or for unquenchable thirst—

-Kazim Ali, “Naval Missive”

At the park the boy lies on his belly on the swing, pays more attention to the tiny green sprout pushing through the wood chips below him, to the way it curves like the lampposts hovering over the streets, than he does to the motion of his own body swaying, and in this, he is all mine, how the night before I had crouched on the patio to watch the pavement ants in their pursuits near dusk. What must the neighbors think of the woman who watches ants and the small flying things that congregate near lights, who kneels near the toads when it is their season to watch the way they breathe, the way they blend into things and hide in holes near the front step, if, from their windows, the neighbors even notice me at all?

I’m the only one in the neighborhood ever out at that hour; night after night on my patio, I’m a reliable predictability, with something to write with and something to consider, this week, that Strindberg book, those paintings I can’t ever get enough of, this week those of the series he’s painted of waves. In them, there is always a spot of bright near the horizon, no matter if the waves are thick and the sky turbulent, if it be storm-colored green or cloud-shadowed. He cannot paint the waves without also painting hope. It’s the way, in his paintings at least, he sees the world. There are no boats in those paintings and no land either. Only the water, the sky—some kind of light at the center of all things.

And I think then, of the way that wanting a thing can feel like drowning, the way too that, when someone offers that thing to you it can feel like the first real breath you have ever taken, how you mistrust the lungs and the way they gather air, that shudder on sudden intake, that shaking sound when you exhale.

Tonight when I lean back in the patio chair and look at the sky, all those little clouds stacking together, I try to imagine the way Strindberg must have seen it, the sky overlarge, dwarfing all that lay below. And on the patio, like the boy, I watch all the tiny things, the simple swaying of branch, that weed pushing up near edge of concrete, all those small flying things, their bodies alight in moonlight, imagine how it might have been to see it—not as if drowning, but as light, at the center of all things.

And I breathe.

I just


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