My mother’s breath caught on the
sharp edges of collapsing alveoli,
the reptilian center of her brain
telling her she had no choice.
My mother’s oxygen tanks stood
sentry beside her bed, offering
what they understood of life:
no excuses, a steady flow.
My mother’s breath slowed as
she learned to negotiate the
moments of not breathing, the
pauses, the small deaths.
My mother’s breath stopped,
finally, not a choke but an exhale,
a releasing of body and blood,
tube and machine.
Vivian Wagner lives in New Concord, Ohio, where she teaches English at Muskingum University. She's the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), The Village (Kelsay Books), and Making (Origami Poems Project). Visit her website at www.vivianwagner.net.