The round rosy face of the child is lit by the glow of candles on a birthday cake. The cake is enrobed in butter-cream frosting, the name of the child scrolled in colorful piping. The candles make a crown, with six or seven sparking points. The flames perform brilliant acrobatics, their final performance, on tiny black pedestals. They somersault, pirouette and march-in-place before the child.
The child’s eyes are sequined with happiness, swimming with joy. The air is powdered with sugar. The flames make their final resplendent turns, with ribbons of light and pinches of glitter. The child takes a healthy chestful of sweet breath. Like a wind lifting a tent off the tundra, the deep intake of breath stirs and picks up the innermost wish of the child. The child exhales in a gust. The wish is released from the lamp of the child’s lungs like a genie. The flames poof into ether and applause.
The sweet breath that captured the innermost wish weaves with the smoke and the candied air. It is swept up into the winds of the planet to join the international stock of terrestrial atmosphere, to join the natural and necessary breaths of every creature that ever sighed, in an eternal dance of living breath.
Twenty children’s birthday breaths, ballerinas of the air, clothed in star jasmine and hyacinth, lavender and soap bubbles, citrus and breakfast sizzling on the stove, hay and horses, incense and offerings.
Breath-of-Charlotte, breath-of-Daniel, breath-of-Olivia, swaying with the sound waves of distant sobbing, recent laughter, tender lullabies, mother’s hair, father’s shirt.
Breath-of-Josephine, breath-of-James, breath-of-Grace. Waltzing and whirling high above and apart from our imagined distinctions, with the sacred warbling from citadels and minarets, magical mantras, wind chimes and soothing bells.
Ana-breath, Dylan-breath, breath-of-Madeleine. Breaths that blew out six candles or seven join the faint current of every butterfly wing, flurry of snowflake, blast of warmth from the heating vent.
Breath-of-Catherine, breath-of-Jesse, breath-of-Emilie, breath-of-Chase. We breathe this moment in and out the same thousands of nitrogen molecules that were in the deep breath of their birthday wishes, that were in the deep breath of your great great grandmother, and the breath of a child generations from now inhaling before a birthday cake, and the breath of great creatures of the distant past whom we’ve never known.
Breath-of-Jack, breath-of-Noah, breath-of-Caroline, breath of Allison. Air is the ultimate intimacy. All of us drinking from the same bottomless cup. Through our breath we blend seamlessly with past and future souls.
Jessica-breath, Avielle-breath, breath-of-Benjamin. The transcendent air, bridging time and space and innermost wish and day of birth and birthday, and moment of death and final sharp intake of breath, and gentle exhale.
Twenty first breaths, breath gathered into a blazingly bright wail of pronouncement, I am here. Twenty breaths harnessed to form words, formulate ideas, share newfound wisdoms, sing.
Twenty last breaths, their final resplendent turns, with ribbons of light and pinches of glitter, on a fiery chariot of birthday candles, names scrolled in colorful piping, twenty breaths caught in a fragrant updraft, rolling lightly like tumbleweed, swept up into the winds of the planet, our eyes are sequined with tears, swimming with disbelief. Our tears decorate their song, like crystals on the bodice of a wedding gown. Our tears are given to the clouds for rain. Our tears are given to the sky for stars. Our tears are given to the mist for purity.
Twenty birthday wishes, dewy and glistening with our bewilderment, they assemble themselves, a million butterfly wings, into a soft, cottony sleigh. Breath-of-stars, breath-of-twilight, breath-of-bedtime story, winged letters writing new-ancient constellations across the night sky. The round rosy face of the child who took our breath away, and breathed life into clay. Breath-of-drawing pad, breath-of-treehouse, breath-of-biking fast as a whip down the street of a sunny cul-de-sac.
We who breathe, we whose souls are eternity’s breath, passing from one to another the pregnant air, buoyant with memory, vibrating with harmony, textured with imprint, laced with dreaming, out of me and into you, out of you and into the child, out of the child and into my ancestors and your descendents, and bird and lion and tree, unbound by illness, death and history, the din of shattered hearts, the wail of mourners, the silent stun of children whose friends are gone, whose teachers are gone.
The child exhales in a gust.
The wish is released from the lamp of the child’s lungs like a genie. The flames poof into ether and applause. The sweet breath that captured the innermost wish is swept up into the winds of the planet, to join the natural and necessary breaths of every creature that ever sighed -- breath of air, breath of earth, breath of air -- in an eternal dance of living breath.