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Selected poems from Everything about Breathing

By B.J. Best

B.J. Best

B.J. Best

B.J. Best is the author of three books and five chapbooks, most recently Yes (Parallel Press, 2014) and But Our Princess Is in Another Castle (Rose Metal Press, 2013). He lives in the Wisconsin countryside with his wife and son. Find out more at his website:


rain gauges

they bloom like white tulips in the backyards
of old men, little cups to measure minutiae.
for weeks they feel the weightlessness

of zero; other times they are brimming
like an unmilked udder, an unloved oil can,
an undiscovered deposit of gems.  but what

are they recording, these men, by capturing
the droppings of clouds?  it’s easy to imagine
their lives are a massive weather system

of regret, but perhaps they’re just paying
attention:  the sweat of a season, the certainty
of a cycle, the right way to roll down the land.

their wives are either dead or asleep,
so it’s a pleasure to take stock of things
by the inch.  sometimes you see them

 in the quiet moments of checking their rain gauges,
and they’re not reading the numbers
very closely, but look lower:  their hands

are folded and their fingers are lucid,
tinkering with a puddleful of prayers.


sudden prayer in b minor

the men on the radio are singing about baby;
the women sing about pickup trucks
as if they could hitch to damascus.

my own voice, of course, is abysmal: a gargle
of gravel, a hornet’s nest of half-breaths
stinging my throat. i can’t carry a tune;

i can’t tune my guitar; and i can’t draw cartoons
about opera, buttons bursting from tuxedos like bullets—
which is to say i’m tone-deaf as a tuna.

so today, i want the song of the forest fire,
the whoosh and the wisp, the timbre
of the timber, every tree an inconsequential cigarette.

i want the clang of the anchor, the ring
of the rigging as the wind plucks those strings.
i want the heart to play bass for the bones.

just look what we’re left with: ooh yeah, uh-huh,
shooby-doo, one more time
. so today, maybe i’ll ink notes
on my palms, press them in prayer,

then release them to become a score
of little black birds who will warble this song
of staticky praise, this hymn of finicky faith.


everything about breathing 

this morning, the landscape seems barely alive:
a leaf might twitch or a sparrow might shift,
but otherwise, the lake is smooth and pure

as a thigh.  by now, you’d think i’d know everything
about breathing, but watch how i choke down a cigarette
with its fish bones of smoke, or how easily

i take some water up the nose.  my wife says oxygen
is the most erotic element, so intimate
with our bodies, and the way the ozone flushes

at sunset’s kiss.  i like to squeeze her hand, her palm creases
like isobars.  but i like even more when we’re asleep,
our breath circulating the air:  light and variable,

a forecast for the weather of our dreams:  for me,
a hawk rising on a thermal through the ionosphere
and beyond; for her, a field of grass bent by wind,

and we are flying a kite cut from sheet music—
the song of a swallow, an eternal etude of air.