"Instruments for the recovery of the apparently dead," Charles Kite, 1788, Wellcome Library, London
Pressed between low clouds and a slough, I push then pull the air in, wheezing, my lungs a squeezebox with a leaky bellows. A woman in dreads and a patchwork skirt of a thousand pockets bounces a damp child on her hip, smiling indistinctly, her breathing as effortless as mine isn’t. I still can’t breathe. I’ve left the dank Hall of Mushrooms, I’ve stood in the rain, and all I want is to run and run until I’m breathless—not to lean over this soft mud, hands on knees in the sudden vacuum. A pot-metal garrote, the pulsed constriction of a boa— just a baby, really, this tightening—closing me down to a whisper, even as the boggy wetland sighs and blows bubbles at my feet. O, airway, hours from now, when we’ve calmed each other, I’ll sing a song for you, with you, as loud as I can, all unbeautiful but so full of joy.