Life: Seven Breaths

Nana is unconsciously breathing.

 he sits
on a blue plastic chair (breath) hospital bedside, her white hair, all to one side,  thinking she’ll be annoyed (breath) when she wakes
with her hair all to one side.

A nurse explains that though not present
Nana may be (breath) able to hear.

The nurse leaves and Nanas breath stops

(Too long)

Then starts hurriedly, then settles down
A nurse explains it is Cheyne-stokes breathing. He can moisten her lips like this. She wets cotton bud out of  white plastic cup, carefully draws bud across Nannas dry lips like painting a line, with water.

He searches web for clues

Nanas breath stops

(Too long)

He paints a line

Typically, over a period of 1 minute, a 10-20 second episode of apnoea or hypopnoea occurs (breath) followed by respirations of increasing depth and frequency. The cycle then repeats itself.

He talks to her, each day

(Breath) Remember the white Sunderland farm
where you were born, Nanna. Stories round its courtyard fire at night. Perched on your Dads horse and cart, delivering milk down streets your Dad knew everybody coming out with jugs.

Nanas breath stops

(Too long)

He paints a line

(breath) Grandad a railway porter laughing with his mate as you and your sisters struggled (breath) with luggage
 to Knaresborough B&B. You got together following evening at River Nidds spectacular ‘Down Mexico Way’, river boats all multi (breath) coloured lit up

(breath stops)

BirminghamWartime Munitions worker, you hated it, all (breath) dirt and grime, but got to see Grandad, (Railway worker in North Wales, but mostly hospitalised).
Returned Sunderland (breath) pregnant with mum. Later Grandad told you no more kids as he’d had mumps.

Paints a line.

Harrogate, Mum (breath) persuaded you to buy detached house. Starbeck Coal depot, weighing lorries in and out. Later you cleaned fridges, stocked shelves, on till at M&S. Grandad, (breath) black bike, black metal bicycle clips delivered post. Did Littlewoods football coupons, Spot-the-ball on a small (breath) laminated brown kitchen table.

Paints a line

Sunday dinners smallest room, tables out into hallway weighed down with feast. Nights friends, (breath) played Newmarket, Yahtzee. Holidays abroad, Germany, France, Brazil.

After mum, only daughter died of Cancer, Grandad (breath) Alzheimers, messed bathroom, bed, till he died, too.

Paints a line

On your own, (breath) I did shopping, sorted bills, admin. We chose (breath) nursing home where you fell into unconsciousness, packing to return home.

Nanas breath stops.

Too long.

Too long.

Too long.

Dust : Seven Breaths


His son said His (cough) annoying cough, in every sentence, up with the phlegm.

In Sixties, a child (cough)  I kept at him ‘Have a drink of water, Dad.’

In retirement (cough)  he climbed Lake District moutains up through forests, Ben Nevis, coughing every sentence.

2000s  specialist asked (cough) whether he had worked with Asbestos.

‘Only cleaning boilers when (cough) I was young.’

Asbestos dust thickens (cough) his lungs (pleura), diffuse pleural thickening, drying  lungs (cough) branches and twigs


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Apple Pie, Seven Breaths, Free

At Eight at the top of Forest Lane playground, climbing frame A bigger boy Pushed him ‘You’d better Run Because I will smash your face in’ So he ran down, his laughter echoing down Forest Lane Weeping out of breath

To his mothers cul de sac arms

Aged nine, Darrington C.of E.
school playtime down around
grey gravel playground breathing hard

boys chase girls, grab girls, red faced,
girls giggling, stroppy,
out of breath

boys herd girls down stone steps,
between stone walls, up against black
wooden gate

Apple Pie shaped school entrance
they called The Apple Pie.


Kerry Fretwell, prettiest girl in school,
nicknamed Froggy, eyes glinting
at him he’d catch his breath

as she chose boys to take
a lesson in kissing
with her apple pie lips
behind prefab

he wanted her to choose him,
if she did he’d run a mile
out of breath