The Breathers

The Breathers

(Jeffrey Andrew Reiss: October 5,1969)

In Ohio, where these things happen,
we had been loving all winter.
By June you looked down and saw your belly
was soft as fresh bread.

In Florida, standing on the bathroom
scales, you were convinced
and looked both ways for a full minute before crossing
Brickell Boulevard.

In Colorado you waited-out summer in a mountain
cabin, with Dr. Spock,
your stamps, and my poems in the faint
8000-foot air.

Listen, he had a perfect body,
right down to his testicles, which I counted.
The morning he dropped from your womb, all rosy
as an apple in season, breathing the thick
fall air of Ohio, we thought good things would happen.

Believe me, Dr. Salter and the nurses were right:
he was small but feisty—they said he was
feisty. That afternoon in his respirator
when he urinated it was something to be proud of.
Cyanotic by evening, he looked like a dark rose.

Late that night you hear...

Think of the only possible twentieth-century consolations:
Doris saying it might have been better this way;
think of brain damage, car crashes, dead soldiers.
Better seventeen hours than eighteen, twenty years
of half-life in Ohio where nothing happens.

Late that night you hear them
in the...

For, after all, we are young, traveling
at full speed into the bull's eye of the atom.
There's a Pepsi and hot dog stand in that bull's eye,
and babies of the future dancing around us.
Listen, the air is thick with our cries!

Late that night you hear them
in the nursery, the breathers.
Their tiny lungs go in and out like the air
bladder on an oxygen tank
or the rhythm of sex.
Asleep, your arms shoot towards that target
with a stretch that lifts you like a zombie,
wakes you to the deafening breathers.

And now you see them crawling
rings around your bed, in blankets,
buntings, preemies in incubators circling
on casters, a few with cleft palates, heart trouble,
all feistily breathing, crawling
away from your rigidly outstretched arms—
breathing, robbing the air.

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