Unzipping a Painting (JB).jpg

By John Benhart


By Avery Boltwood

    Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel the air as it drags through your lungs, and rushes out with the drop of your shoulders. Breathe a sigh of reluctance in the morning, a sigh of relief in the evening. Breathe in deep as you cry. Breathe out strong as you laugh. Breathe a hundred times, a thousand times, a million times, until you fall asleep, and your world becomes invisible, and your breath becomes instinctive.

    For even as you sleep, a billion pour their wind into the atmosphere, this pocket of air, which drifts in airless space. With every breath, our blue balloon is swelling, never bursting, never sinking—No! It buoys with the billion’s breath, their joy, their grief, their love, their hate. It flies, alive with every word you ever spoke, or hope to speak, but as you sleep, it multiplies a billionfold. A billion breaths you’ll never know.

    For even if you listen, you cannot hear their newborn’s gasps, nor the heaves of their old, nor the breaths between, which weave the two. You cannot hear the breeze against their lips, against an ear, as they mumble lovepoems and childish jokes.

    For you—you are a planet’s width away, or an ocean’s breadth, or a city’s length, or a friendship’s death. They cannot know you, and you cannot know them. You are alone, and yet—

    Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel the air in your lungs. Feel the blood that it feeds. Feel the throb in your chest, your wrists, your neck. Feel the drum to mankind’s woodwind choir. Feel the beat that we keep, and that keeps us.

    For we—we are one symphony. We turn one planet’s worth of air into a billion notes, and blend those billion notes in one—one life, one verse, one harmony. And yes, you will not always hear. And yes, you are not always heard. And yet,
the fugue still whispers on.