Keats lost his breath when he was twenty-six.
His breaths were measured out in ten trochees.
He measured out his breaths so carefully,
Stacked them up in elegiac stanzas.
Who knew you could lay out your breaths like bricks,
Your elegant metric sepulcher.
When you’re sick or old, your breaths become
Precious as gold doubloons. At ten, I had
A paper route on Euclid Avenue.
Each Friday, I collected a dollar-
Fifty, and tip, from every customer.
I kicked my breath around, sand on the beach,
I had so much to spare. An old woman,
Whom I loved, even though her decrepit
House smelled funny, walked slowly to the door.
She paid me from the coin purse in her hand,
Reaching for each quarter, one at a time,
And handed each to me begrudgingly,
As though they were the last few coins that she
Would spend on Earth. Near the end of my route,
I stood there patiently with my heavy
Bag of quarters, my young, infinite lungs,
While she dropped them with a fatal clink.
She probably died gasping just like Keats,
Her coins no use to her. When this disease
Comes, the breaths you saved in life don’t matter,
They can’t be hoarded or collected in
A jar, but they can be taken from you
With a knee against your neck, in anger,
A current of indifference and hate.
December now—I blow my breath into
A little cloud. For a lovely moment
It hangs there where I can see, this little
Piece of art I made out of the living
Force inside me. If only I could put
It on a chain and wear around my neck,
Or on a page between two soft covers,
Or hang in a museum with my name,
“This is the thing I made.”
My aspirations made it as it is, This quiet piece of air against a blue December sky.