Open Competition 2021 Second Prize

The Translation of Breath

Push and pull of air through rubber tubes
playing the drumskin of ears, translates
the language of rhonchi and rales, the bubblegum

pop of air through mucus, the susurration
of breath settling in corners like piles of leaves,
the whistled disharmonies of deserted corridors.

Early interpreters pressed eager ears to exposed
flesh, straining to decipher the whispered
dictionary of sighs and rattles.

Laennec they say, blushed every time his skin
lip-read the rise and fall of a woman’s breast;
rolled modesty into a paper tube to amplify their secrets.

Four am and another country; I’m sucking air
hungrily, in the tin can of a camper van, watching
your silent easy breathing as you sleep

until first light when I shake you awake
and seeing the fear in my eyes you drive me
to a hospital where strangers come running

unlooping reassurance from around their necks
         and breathe in,
                          breathe out

Ilse Pedler