In fourth-grade our music teacher showed a film
with a saxophonist doing circular breathing,
a curiosity that fit the freak-show zeitgeist
I had started to pick up from Beatles records
and movies like Monterey Pop with Janis and Jimi.
Their news also taught me the importance of breath.
Shade up, adapt to the day’s glare: even heroes leave.
Years later I saw her at a meditation session
and thanked her for being open to music.
Then at a yoga retreat I learned a breathing technique
to gradually forget separate halves of air; soak it in,
and sing out. One day Muktananda pointed at me
as he arrived and said “kriya.” His protege held
more peacock feathers than seemed possible
as she brought them down on my head:
bright iceberg shaktipat.
The next morning I walked out to see the sun
rise into the Catskills. Circling the main building
I came upon a white horse eating grass, loose.
Only a few steps to approach, I patted her neck
and made greeting sounds I knew from childhood.
I considered a ride, but no saddle and too tall.
I said goodbye like she was family and continued
my walk, chest expanded, trying to hold it in.
Later that summer my soul shook with music:
a concert with Jaco making the hills glow alive,
and studying albums like Coryell’s Spaces,
musicians who listen and respond with surprise
like kung fu masters watching for movement of air
in between, assessing possible outcomes, loose,
ready to ride any currents toward the sun.
Decades later at an intensive writing retreat for credit,
I read a bronze plaque that read Wells College,
Habere et dispertire, (to have and to share), inhaled
the dim auditorium as Li-Young Lee gave a reading.
Before anyone noticed, he built up to a doorway: the void.
He vulnerably allowed long pauses to grasp deep structures
that danced in the stretched shadows.
Duende’s long root-fingers appeared, the poet’s ache
and lifelong struggle tensed, then released to pierce.
Tony Piccione smiled to me while a few “somebodies”
from downstate fidgeted to ignore their own
breath interrupted by poetry that led up mountains
into abandoned caves of memory.
In those wordless moments I saw Lee ride inside a wave,
aimed into its eye, and outward into the burning day.
I sighed to taste-digest the tones.
Today, as I got ready for work, news accosted me,
left a bitter taste in my mind. Struggling to my car,
I plodded through frigid wind that knocked me
breathless, but the pause gave me this:
after such tragic hot air, Earth pushes back
with north winds against the scorched noise,
knocks the wind out of our lungs, reminding:
not always you; but the space around you,
vast, and you haven’t connected the two yet,
soham breath with songs, no, with singing,
and something else I can’t hear yet.
But I’ve learned from a few masters,
(and myself) to wait in one space,
breathe it in, something about
caring to stop long enough
to catch our yin breath.
Lloyd Milburn teaches creative writing, literature, and composition in western New York colleges where he earned a creative writing MA. In addition to work published in Willow Review (poetry award 2012), Permafrost, Ithaca Lit, The Sandy River Review, Synesthesia Literary Journal, Claudius Speaks, and Talking River, he is nearing completion of his first two books of poetry.