by Nathaniel Perry

All night I hear myself coughing through the night.
               In the morning, the morning light makes no sound

or a sound so small I can’t hear it over small
               changes in my wife’s own breathing. The change

of season surprised us again, new leaves again,
               a shock of crimson shocking the peony back

to life. It’s a wonder, one of us said of this life,
               you can’t hear them growing, the trees growing

I mean. But you can feel the mean things
               in your lungs all night for sure, all the way

to where you think your breathing is their breathing,
               the muted rasp of spring—beautiful springing

from the lungs of songbirds or the lungfuls of breath
               a newborn takes at night, but hard to take

when it’s you, up, in the weird undarkening dark
               before dawn breathing and listening to your breathing.

We go on and on about our breath; we breathe
               and listen and breathe and don’t listen and never

hear what we want to hear —the light we’re sure
               is there, just as sure as the morning birds are there

in the morning behind the window, behind the riot
               of rising light, which makes me squint and makes

my wife begin to wake, the birds who wake
               so early just to have their say and say

it twice: that what I can’t make out outside
               is made for them to hear and made for them

to make for me, remade, and I’m to pass
               it on, this light, in the rasp of a lighter song.

NATHANIEL PERRY’s poems and translations have most recently appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, West Branch, Cincinnati Review, Salamander and elsewhere. The editor of lyric and The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, he is Assistant Professor of English at Hampden-Sydney College in rural southside Virginia.