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Sign

Elizabeth Zetlin
From:   Taking Root. Seraphim Editions


Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.

— Derek Walcott, Dissolving the Sign of History

Buried among femurs and knuckle bones
our sighs litter the earth,
sprout from cracks in the sidewalk
like dandelions, syringes, maple keys.
Unique as the opposable thumb,
probably older than thought,
sighs seep from us like certainty,
that odourless killer.
All that breath sodden with longing,
a weight so heavy
we should warn each other
to bend our knees.

One day I was asked if I knew
how often I sighed.
No I said, and held my breath.
I began to notice how sighs piggyback
onto words at the beginning of sentences
and inhabit the middle of paragraphs.
I even counted my sighs, measured
their depth and length, charted their frequency
as they settled down beside me
innocent as farts.

My sighs found their way into verse,
rhyming - depending on my mood -
with thigh or die. They surfaced,
carved into birch bark tepees
and the green bellies of ornament gourds.
Suddenly they were everywhere
like pregnant women when I was.

When I asked them where they came from
they said: "We are just a release of tension.
A quick exit," they added defensively,
"a way to change your mind."

Then one of them broke down and said:
"I am the sigh that means
I can't bear it when you do that
but I'll let it pass."

Another said she was the sigh that meant:
"There you go again but if I say anything,
you won't speak for days."

And then they were all explaining:
"Can't you see we are the breath of anger?
But we're not going to tell you why.
We expect you to read our minds."

I begin the long inhale
on the way to the sigh -
the sigh that means it's all over,
the sigh that says it will never be.
But instead of breathing myself out
through the sigh, I take its skin off,
turn it inside out into the thought
it comes from, and this time
I say the sigh.

Now I know how many sighs it takes
to make an ache and how many aches
it takes to make a sigh.
I have found there are many other ways
to let the breath go -
through the pucker and parch of slightly parted lips
gently down the nose with a tickle and a shrug
squealing down the tunnel of tongue
fluttering an overhang of hair
into a silver mouthpiece or
puffing into a rectangle of holes and reeds,
but best of all that slow
raspy throat suck entering
the breath at the root of voice
collapsing the collar bone,
the ribs, out through the belly,
the forehead, into that last release
of all we will ever hold.

_______
one of the "Gourd Poems" from Taking Root, Seraphim Editions


Elizabeth Zetlin's works copyright © to the author.


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