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Respiration

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A lot of it lives in the trachea, you know.
But not so much that you won’t need more muscle:
the diaphragm, a fist clenching at the bottom.
Inhale. So many of us are breathless,
you know, like me
kneeling to collect the pottery shards
of a house plant my elbow has nudged
into oblivion. What if I sigh,
and the black earth beneath me scatters
like insects running from my breath?
Am I a god then? Am I insane
because I worry about the disassembling of earth
regularly? I walk more softly now

into gardens or up the steps of old houses
with impatiens stuffed in their window boxes.
When it’s you standing there with a letter
or voice or face full of solemn news,
will you hold your breath before you knock?

Source: Poetry (January 2016)

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This poem originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Poetry magazine

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Respiration

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  • Jamaal May was born and raised in Detroit. His first book, Hum (2013), won a Beatrice Hawley Award and an American Library Association Notable Book Award and was an NAACP Image Award nominee. Hum explores machines, technology, obsolescence, and community; in an interview, May stated of his first book, “Ultimately, I’m trying to say something about dichotomy, the uneasy spaces between disparate emotions, and by extension, the uneasy spaces between human connection.” May’s poems have appeared widely in journals such as Poetry, New England Review, The Believer, and Best American Poetry 2014. His second collection is The Big Book of Exit Strategies (2016).
     
    May’s honors and awards include a Spirit of Detroit Award, an Indiana Review Poetry Prize, and fellowships from Cave Canem, Bread Loaf,The Frost Place, the Lannan Foundation, and the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University. He is the 2014–2016 Kenyon Review Fellow at Kenyon College and a...

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