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Gasping and Moaning

by Gabi Houk
Illustration by Tayden Seay

Comfort is found in a palm,
flat against my upper chest with fingers
loosely circling my neck;
my heart beats slow,
slow for now.

I need to grip harder.
Test how long I can last without air.
How fast my heart will beat after my lungs
providing oxygen.
Working for air forces me to remember:

I’m still alive after you.

It’s strange that bodies expand for breath;
there’s wasted potential in between. What fills the space
after the lungs deflate? Or do the lungs push aside
the other organs to make room for them
to inflate?

The first time I saw you. I stopped

I read a book about someone climbing
Mount Everest;
As he climbed higher, he worked harder to breathe.
But eventually, he needed an oxygen tank.
Imagine climbing for two months
and not being able
to breathe the actual

You became my
oxygen tank. Sometimes.
You’d turn the air down.
And watch. Me. Struggle.
Just to hear me beg.

I can’t tread water and I can barely even swim. I splash
and flail, focused on not drowning because drowning is
a silent affair
and screaming
for help
wastes precious breath

I’d scream anyway.

Your hands. So much bigger than mine.
There were calluses on your fingers.
From years of gripping
your drumsticks.
My throat.

Balloons are underrated; you spend time and effort filling
them up with a piece of yourself.
A piece inhaled,           filtered, exhaled;
giving away a balloon is giving away
a piece of yourself.

You told me
no one else was worth my breath.
I was precious. Deserved to spend time on what
You mattered.

Yoga taught me that I take shallow breaths:
in through my nose, fill my chest, out through my mouth.
The proper way:
In the nose four seconds,
fill the chest and stomach,
out the nose again for four seconds.
Yogis say it triggers a nerve for
I’m not relaxed.

is too much work.
When’s best to breathe?
How long should I inhale?
Exhale? When and Where
is the air cleanest?
Is it worth it?
I miss you. When you
were in charge.
It seemed

Working out is embarrassing
because I don’t know what I’m doing.
Gasping for breath draws even more attention to me.
Constantly moving
means I can never
catch my breath.

Easier doesn’t mean better,
It doesn’t.
Being with you doesn’t
make breathing better.
It doesn’t.
I will repeat this
until it becomes
my oxygen.

I’ve never understood when people
the air was knocked out of them.
The air is still there,
You just aren’t in control for a minute.
It’s still there. Just look harder.
No one should have the power
to knock out someone else’s

I can’t.
No, I couldn’t.

I’m trying to breath on my own.

Illustration by Tayden Seay

Illustration by Tayden Seay