Liturgy of the Opening of the Mouth for Breathing

by Chad Davidson

You know that empty is the seamless sky
we call night, the moon’s O a negative
drowned in daguerrotype argentine.
It is the negativity of a whale
breathing at the odd blue of two
leagues. It is much the same, I tell you
through the tongues of a dying fire, as the silver
jaw that rests on the salt ballast
like a sickle
. There, the very air
preludes bravery or slavery
depending on the hands that raise it up
above the head in which a mouth opens
like a thermal vent to breathe its clear
caution into the steam of the living world.

You know that cold is the remainder
of last night near the river when
you awoke to glass streams, cardamom
tea, a campstove burning the last of the white
gas, a camel lapping water, or dreaming so.
The sidestrong mandibles collapse, it seems,
to feel the water and its journey through
such hollows. You are breathing, I say.
The river’s patina snickers, and we stare
at ourselves, brilliant in our fracture,
so taut the hawk tears down
the seams of its cumulus, or so it seems.
The air is oxygen-poor, astringent, strident.
It is beautiful to the restful mouth.

Open, and the universe spins backward
pre-Copernican. Close the mouth
and the world closes with you: the red storm
inside the eye, inside the dust that keeps
the inside of the planet cool, inside
the trees looming above their roots like
America, outside of which the oceans
ripple with whales, outside of which the deserts
birth the hollow of the camel, inside
of which burns the memory of the last
swallow, the last time water fell inside
inside of which burns memory, the throat
a tunneling back, the mouth a negative
of the world I have taught you to swallow.

Chad Davidson is an assistant professor of English at the State University of West Georgia. His poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Crab Orchard Review, DoubleTake, Epoch, The Paris Review, Pequod, Poet Lore, and numerous other publications. Southern Illinois Press published his first book, Consolation Miracle in 2003.