Tag Archives: Aramaic

Twelve Springs/Last Songs for a Paralyzed Pigeon

Twelve Springs/Last Songs for a Paralyzed Pigeon

            (For Cleo)


The state of the future is mind—

all the beautiful things at peace.



Glassless world.  Primacy of sky.



Gone light.  A bird close to death

almost weightless in the hand.  Breath,

air, spirit, all one word in Aramaic: wind

gone in, so they can start the inward flight.



Steel, mint, rose.  Fallen to a sidestreet

where I would have to find her.  God’s mind.

Eyes half-closed

at the mystery of human song,

the mystery of why

I’d sing for her at all.



Twelve springs.  One long afternoon

waiting in my hand.  My songs

just air, just for her, in

and out of tune.  At midnight

it was done.  The inward flight:  all wind,

no horizon.



Bring me back a sprig, my steadfast dove,

let it show me that it’s true, that there’s

a place for you, space in God’s hand,

pretty wings to cut the air.

That you knew about the love.



We are all birds dreaming, hungry

at the hour of sleep.

The Meaning of “Holding Breath”/New Edition of the Book

I was mortified yesterday when I realized that when I published Holding Breath I left out a short, yet rather pivotal piece of the book.  The omission doesn’t really change the story, but it explains why I chose to give the book that title, and offers a little more insight into David’s (and my own) state of mind in the few days before he passed away.  Today I republished the book as a second edition that includes the new chapter.  I apologize to those of you who bought the first edition, but I’m posting the chapter here so that you can, at least, read it now:

Holding Breath

In his last few weeks, David rarely lay down any more. At night, he would sit up for hours, staring at the wall, or at the floor, often with that strange little smile on his lips, as if he was being told some wonderful secret. Sometimes I’d try to pull him down, because it worried me that he wasn’t sleeping. Sometimes he’d resist. Other times he would lie down, but his legs wouldn’t straighten out.

He spoke very little, and when he did, the words would come out unexpectedly, quietly, slowly, as if they’d been inside of him for a long time and were just coming to the surface.

He had two homecare attendants, one during the day, and one at night. Sometimes I’d sleep with David with the attendant present; it may have seemed strange but I was well past caring about how anything seemed.

Other nights I’d send the attendant home, and take care of David myself. There’s one night in particular that was like a tunnel of dreams, a kind of final journey. I’d gone out to Delancey to buy some sheets for the hospital bed. When I got back to the apartment I sent the homecare attendant home, and I had a sip of David’s methadone (which the VA had sent home with him but which he hadn’t been drinking) so that I could sleep. That night, for some reason, we slept in the hospital bed, or, I should say, I slept. David sat up for most of the night, looking at the floor.

At some point during the night, David said, “I need.” He stopped there.

“What do you need?” I asked him.

It took him a few moments to form the words.  “I need someone to hold my breath for me.”

I think I understood what he meant, but I don’t remember how I answered. Maybe I told him that I would. Maybe that’s what I’m trying to do now, as I write.

This is a poem that I wrote about that night:



April dusk drained, while I was out,

Into your mouth, the black

Collapsing cave, your glottis ticking off

Last swallows of the day. You watched tides

Receding, patterns on the rug

Recounting dreams, frail fingers

Fingering cold fences

That held you in your bed.


Coming in with sheets

And pillows from Delancey, I smelled your skin

Beleaguered., tasting itself, falling

Away, the smell of fruit

Rotting in a bowl, unnaturally sweet.

The nurse dismissed, I prematurely lit the room

With candles against night.


Then night began, a shadow

Lapping in the shallow moments. Rats

And pigeons rustled, pestilent,

Trapped in walls; open windows lifted tongues,

Sending quiet cadenced prayers

To infiltrate God’s monotone. Your eyes,

Slow fish, slid in wide ellipses

While I prepared us for the caterpillar ride

To dawn. By nine I lay

Against your back between the rails, your muteness

Sharp against murmurs from the street,

Against the muffled rush of breeze

Through pale fingers of new leaves. Hooded figures

Flickered and bowed

In gestures of atonement on the walls.



There was nothing to do

But wait. I lay you down. Sometime that night

Your whisper broke

An interval of sleep. I need,

You said. I waited while

You shook it from inside your head.

I need someone

To hold my breath for me.


That night

I never slept again,

Imagining you driving on some prairie road,

Your arm dancing in the wind outside the window

With the rhythm of a country song.

I warmed your back curved hard

Against sleep, passing the hours preparing

For the time that we had left.

That’s it.  As far as what David meant when he said that he needed someone to hold his breath for him is concerned, I’ve interpreted it in many different ways since that night, but it was only a couple of years ago that I learned that, in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (and, for all I know, in some other languages as well), the word for “breath” is the same as the word for “spirit.”

(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days–now the second edition–is available here:

http://www.amazon.com/Holding-Breath-Memoir-AIDS-Wildfire/dp/1480164518/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1350864778&sr=1-3 )

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