Still Breathing

By Cathi Pawson

I glimpsed a woman as I drove the dark lane.
She wore the moon in her hair.
She bore a face richly cracked
by seasons of tears,
her skin the deep hues of many bright summers.
She caught my eye with starlight.
I passed her in a blink.
And yet she remained.

Later that night,
In a hot tangle of bed
at 3 in the morning
She returned to my dream,
and we spoke.
Of the times when the careful craft of our lives
capsizes and, blind in dark waters,
shadows rush into seared lungs.

‘Remember the way out’ said she,
‘You surely do.’

As she cast the lifeline of bright belonging-things,
that link-chain of small remembrances
we habitually use to tie us one to another
until we land, gasping wetly,
on the high tideline of our brokenness,
grateful for our belonging,
to gather ourselves up.
And, finding those bones that still answer to dry land,
hasten toward sunshine again.

Seizing the line, I prepared to rise.

‘No, not now’ she said, breaking in,
‘Let go this bright line.
It is made of things that no longer become you.
Dive deeper.
Breathe water.’

I looked at her squarely then,
for I had to know I could trust her.
She returned a starlight gaze.
And so
I let go.

Watched the bright bubbles receding as I sank.

Somewhere between despair and panic
an amphibian knowing kicked in.
I breathed peat,
and ancient story flooded my lungs,
unfurling timelines like coiling ribbon
down through my veins.
Fossilised life cried out and caught,
Singing its song,
in the filaments of my flickering heart.

I breathed out,
marvelling at the miracle
of my survival.
I knew the slow seeping of grace
into tightly held spaces between my joints.
I knew mercy
in the hand held out
by deep time and her tales.
A tide to wash anxiety from its hiding places.

After all, didn’t our ancestors face a thousand trials?
And yet here we are.
Still breathing.
Still telling our tales.

Far above, a tugboat moon rose,
Painting silver through dark water.
Recalling my warm-blooded life
inexorably to land,
this time finned and
Light with strange cargo
And tethered deep.

I wrote this poem as the January lockdown began, and I felt stressed and panicky about my work, my children’s education, and our wellbeing as a community. I’m lucky to be well and healthy, but have noticed that when these worries wake me at night, I feel short of breath, trapped and fearful. The poem arose from a kind of waking dream I had during one of those insomniac nights.

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Robert Milby
1 year ago

Your work is powerful, and intuitive.
When I read this line, it is quite the anchor:
“After all, didn’t our ancestors face a thousand trials?”

Well done!

Sarah JB
Sarah JB
1 year ago

You have captured that feeling so weel.

1 year ago

Oh, this is a beautiful piece. Deeply felt. brilliant.

1 year ago

Wonderful poem.

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