Stewart Moss

The Afterlife of Breath
October 25, 2022 Moss Stewart

The Afterlife of Breath


My father dead on the gurney
and yet the nurse urging me to speak to him –
I believe his soul is still here, floating, she said
I wasn’t sure about his soul
although I looked for it anyway, a haze
that had somehow gone from flesh
to mist and dust, but I believed his final breath
remained. Or maybe it had left him
as he lay on the kitchen floor,
the bags of groceries he’d carried scattered
as if by a cyclone that had gathered all the breaths
we mortals have blown out from our own bodies
and may still linger
in the endless afterlife of breath,
to which every living thing contributes.
Breath of mind that even in sleep
never stops exhaling its stories,
and the breaths of clouds declaring their freedom.
The breaths of young voices I heard
choiring in Soweto, and the Elgonyi elder
who spits on his hands as the sun rises
and blows out the spray as an offering.
And my own breath as a new father
when I carried with me
the soft inhalations and exhalations
of the small being gifted into my arms.
I thought I heard the earth breathe then
and hear it now, too,
but not without it laboring, not without
the billions of burdens and arduous gaspings
that cling to its spinning
in the darkness where we all were conceived
and to which we will return and hum together, as if
it’s the only song we know of peace.

As a former Executive Director of The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Stewart Moss helped establish creative writing programs for adult immigrants and members of the military being treated for neurological and psychological trauma. He has taught literature and creative writing in both the USA and abroad; Scotland, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Nepal are among the countries where he has lived and worked. Moss has essays included in Retire the Colors: Veterans & Civilians on Iraq & Afghanistan, ed. Dario DiBattista (Hudson Whitman/Excelsior College Press, 2016) and Plume Poetry, and poetry in Plume, Goss 183 and Origins Literary Review. His chapbook of poems, For Those Whose Lives Have Seen Themselves, was published in 2021 by Finishing Line Press, and his collection Arrivals & Departures: Poems will be released (also by Finishing Line Press) in 2023. Moss has been awarded an Independent Artist Grant by the Maryland States Arts Council; he has also been featured in “The Poet and the Poem” podcasts at The Library of Congress. A native of Boston, MA, he resides in Annapolis, MD.