March 2023

Back to Issue 13


By Kate Maxwell

Breath becomes you; that faint flush 

of blood beneath dry patch of skin seen 

above your ventilator mask and endotracheal 

tube somehow complements the red-veined terror 

of your eyes—those now fixed upon the harried health

care worker untangling cords and a myriad of unwelcome 

consequences from a horde of free-choice thinkers free-choicing 

their way into underfunded wards, all overwhelmed with panic, pain 

and slippery politics. Where, once strident voices break, argument and 

belief now gasp for air and every breath, but won’t prevent the fattening 

of that black number that tallies every death. Yours, fortunately, not added 

to statistics when lungs kicked into life after a respirator was finally free, for 

incubation’s such inconvenience to patient: nurse ratio, hum of the economy

and theories of conspiracy. Words, blame and spin, simply more of the same 

to puffy-eyed nurses in PPE with no time to question anything but oxygen 

masks, and flashing lights—not those ever-blinking on the information 

highway—or forgotten mandates, mitigations that masters of industry

desperate workers, governments insist are all now so unnecessary. 

We have to learn to live with it. Just breathe, she whispers

placing latex palm and patience upon your shaking arm

as you gasp for what you thought was always yours.