It’s humbling to dwell on the need
For taking in a mouthful of air
A dozen times a minute
Whether we want to or not,
Whether the air available blows in
From a mountain meadow or from a swamp.

Still, I’m proud of the deep breaths
That our featured speaker tonight is taking
While she waits to be introduced. Her voice
Mustn’t quaver as she exposes the lies
Told about our water and soil and air,
The claims they’re as clean as they’ve ever been.

Though she doesn’t believe her words
Will be wafted around the world
On an irresistible tide of spirit,
At least she believes that her audience
Will try to give them a fair hearing
If she can deliver them with authority.

When I think of what can be done
With a single breath, I think of the soloist
In the old recording I own, on seventy-eighths,
Of Mozart’s oboe concerto, of his sudden
Intake of breath at a silent beat
To fill his lungs for a soaring passage.

I hope our speaker’s faith this evening
In the worth of her contribution
Is akin to the faith of the musician
As he sends his theme, finely phrased,
Out through the double reeds.

May it meet with good luck
On its unpredictable journey,
Riding farther than many suppose
A theme can ride on a puff of air.

“Breath” from EARTHBORN by Carl Dennis, copyright © 2022 by Carl Dennis. Used by permission of Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.