This is Breathing



Each day, a blessing.
Each breath, a shuttered gasp
wheezing through window slats
like a swimmer almost drowned:
salt and sand and air.
Life. Vitality. This is breathing.

On the shore, freshly spewed from Ocean’s mouth,
I know what it feels like to be drowning:
like clouds before they dump their fill with mighty gasps,
beavers with broken dam,
a sinner who isn’t Noah,
a fish out of water—
no, man out of air, life;
I have more water than I know what to do with.
My lungs reject it like a desert oasis that is just a mirage,
an empty vessel sinking,
a washed up failure—
washed out,
slapped about.
Pulled from the waves on fisherman’s hook:
a trout
on the shore.
This is breathing.

They say we do not think about breathing.
(In, out. In, out.)
So natural, automatic… vital.
I wonder, did they query the one who rasps in the dark:
lungs smaller than shadows on a sunny day,
sweat on clammy hands,
and even raisins seem to hold breath within their wrinkled folds.
An asthmatic sprinter without a puffer,
a cracked open clam shell on the beach… smashed.
This is breathing.

Infants take 40-60 breaths per minute.
20-30 breaths for young children.
15-20 for teenagers.
Adults, 12-15.
Age steals our breaths—
And we do not think about it.
This is breathing.

(In. Out. In. Out.)
I need you like breathing.
A smile whispers from her lips.
Romance to wedding rings to children
to working long hours
to coming home late.
Out of breath.
From 40 to 20 to 15 to 12.
Love. Automatic.
Don’t even think about it,
And it slowly dies:
age stealing it like mouldy bread forgotten on the counter.
A relationship dying
that you can’t even made croutons out of.
This is breathing.

If it’s not important to us, we won’t learn it, savour it,
or even care.
Lungs know breathing is vital,
learn it well in formative years…
then slowly forget.
We do not think about it.
(In. Out. In. Out.)
Less important—
Oxygen communicating with raisins,
or trying to.
But raisins cannot hear the wind.

Meanwhile, drowning men lay alive on the shore
shouting at the sky
with every luscious (In, out. In, out).

I need you like the sun needs a sky
like shadows need darkness
like oceans need water
like mountains need rock
like trees need wood
and the wind needs trees so that you can see it is

But sometimes I forget.
Breathing becomes no more than background noise.
Like a city boy first hearing the birds sing out his window…
then forgets.
Silence can be so loud,
until we stop listening to it.
And 40 becomes 20 becomes 15 becomes 12.
This is breathing.

Let my (In, out. In, out.) not grow stagnant:
bread not turn mouldy on the shelf,
Love for you become so natural, automatic,
that I forget.
That you could leave and I wouldn’t notice…
NO! I would notice!
You remind me with every word from the silence
Every story on the wind like dancing leaves.
Let me dance with those leaves like a care-free infant—
a child with more faith than sense—
40, 50, 60 breaths a minute.
No. A second.
And I cannot tell myself that I do not need you
because I need you like breathing,
and I know what drowning feels like.

This poem was originally written for a sermon that I preached about the vitality of God in our lives. You can find the audio of the original work and accompanying sermon at
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