“Asphyxia” by Christine Friedlander

04 January 2010 on Poetry   Tags:

after Eavan Boland


The rising heat of an August afternoon.
The layering of haze. The air thick with it.

Guarding the lives of swimmers jackknifing into the diving well.

Christine, how does the body react to drowning?

The lengthening strides of the heart rate. Blood retreating to the chest cavity. Panic. The
collection of carbon dioxide in the blood. Then, the inability to hold the breath any longer.
The opening of the larynx. Water soaking lung tissue. The sinking of the body. Arms parted,
legs spread. The last wet sighs of breath.

The escape of some lighter, aerial being to the surface.


Daybreak - the choking sounds of grief in the local paper.

Over breakfast, I am reading the lines of another body,
face-down in the Hackensack muck.

Whispers of suicide shake the tree branches. The river has its doubts.

My hands are drawn to the newsprint photo
of local strangers huddled near the river.
They note the woman's sunken position in the earth,
the silt embracing her body.

What is drowning anyway
but the filling of something (water, mud, death)
into empty spaces?

Outside, my mother is filling the birdbath.
The goldfinches, above, are warbling a familiar song,
some final argument for life.

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