You make it look effortless,
opening, closing your eyes,
vowing to rise from sheets where you did not
sleep, buried to the chest,
heaped with grief and waiting for the stones
in twos and threes, small handfuls
all night long. When mourning comes,
daylight flips the hourglass
and off you go again: the bathroom,
kitchen, daily barre where you rehearse –
kamikaze, breath knocked out –
echoes in the glass, enough
invention to appease the waiting crowd.
Rustling overhead, a strange bird keens and caws
until you recognize the strangled cry
and look. He lifts, cupped between two hands of wind,
climbs a thermal and gains height, your own weight
hoisted on his wings, your own limbs, for the moment, light.
I’ve spent January sharing first drafts, in keeping with the newness of the year, and “Winded” is very fresh indeed. I’m messing about with
Psalm 34, exploring the connotations of “crushed in spirit” from verse 18. The verse reads, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” The transliterated Hebrew phrase that acts as my acrostic guide is yovshia dakkeei ruach, literally “open, wide and free with one crushed in wind or violent exhalation.” The picture for me is distinctly one who has had the wind knocked out of her. When I think about how foolishly brave we attempt to appear when we are crushed, it puts me in mind of ballet dancers who make rigorous discipline look effortless and light even as they bleed into their shoes. I think about the self-destructive effects of attempting to appear unruffled, untouched, untroubled, mostly for others’ benefit or personal pride, and that evokes, for me, an incremental death, small accumulation of stones that eventually kills a persecuted woman. That’s a lot of images to juggle in three small stanzas, and I’m not certain that they fit together yet, but there they are, sharing a space for the moment, and leading me to look nearby for deliverance for the straining sufferer. It must be something close, that also hurts, but rises under more than its own power to heights surpassing its own ability or strength. The grating caw of an unknown bird, not delicate or dainty, is the picture of rescue for me, its lift virtually free of personal effort, and its soaring a reminder that she can do the same. The poem is weighted heavily in the first two stanzas, dominated by stones and burial in the first, and the kamikaze (translation: divine wind) preparations of the pretender in the second. There is more internal rhyme than I usually indulge, but here I hope it emphasizes the nearness in kinship of deliverance. All credit for the featured photograph goes to Roy & Marie Battell at http://www.moorhen.me.uk/. The photo captures the unbroken sequence of four seconds of flight time for a single bird in a right-moving thermal. Cool.
Look about for lift. What heals the crushed spirit? What gives you back your breath?