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2 poems by Vicki Husband

The Respiratory System

Breathe in: through conducting zones of allotments and back

greens, botanic gardens, cricket grounds, and pause, before

breathing out through cemeteries, bowling greens, Cross park

and Cowlairs park, and pause, before breathing in: through

Drumchapel park, Drumry wood, Garscadden burn, Kelvindale

glen, pause, and exhale through Maryhill park and Milton park,

Kelvingrove and Knightswood park, and pause, inhale: through

Possil marsh and Ruchill park, Sighthill park, and Victoria

park, pause, and breathe out through blue space, canal side,

riverside and roadside verge. Inhale through your nose, to boost

nitric oxide, into the bottom of your lungs, so your diaphragm

pushes your belly out, pause, then a deep exhale through pursed

lips, and pause, keep going through two million trees, through

ash, hawthorn, alder, birch, through goat willow and sycamore,

poplar and oak, breathe in: through forty percent of the city,

thru public green space. Listen, for the soft fascination of

canaries singing in Dawsholm woods.


Breathe in: ambient air irritants, coarse and fine particulates,

and the usual suspects of chemicals. Breathe in: through main

roads, busy roads, rush hours and moderate alerts from Air

Quality Monitors. And breathe: through inhaler, nebuliser,

oxygen tubing, nasal cannula, mask. Breathe: the best air

quality since the industrial revolution. Breathe in: ozone,

nitrogen, sulphur and carbons – monoxide, dioxide. Breathe: 20

000 litres of air daily. Breathe in: particulates measured by

aerodynamic diameter, how deep they travel into your lungs.

Breathe in: power station and factory emissions from a hundred

miles downwind. Breathe in: micropollutants with no safe

threshold level. Breathe in: toxins from across Europe, dust

from the Sahara. Breathe in: domestic combustion, vehicle

emissions, particulates of soil, sea salt, the fall out of

construction work, slough from tyre rubber. And breathe:

airborne pathogens, bacteria and virus, in laboured breaths,

short breaths, on exertion or at rest. The trick is just to keep



In the night something is sleeping, and something is eating.

Often the something is eating the thing that was sleeping. But

sometimes something will be given simply in exchange for a

thing, without contest: the give and take of gut bacteria, say,

the mutualistic decomposition of algae, experiences of the day

downloaded to the hard drive of memory in dreamtime.

Sometimes I don’t want to know the arrangement, it is enough

just to know that a species of moth will extend a syringe-like

probiscis into an eye of a sleeping bird, the bird continuing to

sleep as the moth sips its tears. It is enough to know that a

caterpillar has thought for the very first time of silk, closely

followed by a compulsion to spin, the relinquishing of oneself,

for another. Elsewhere this world can only be seen in infrared,

heat spots and sweet spots, or sonic waves: the night tremulous

with transactions. Outside, in the dewy dark, buds are forming

again on the magnolia, small flames of light borrowed from a

pink moon. While beneath our sleeping buildings the roots

reach out via an affiliation of fungi to exchange views on

asphalt, astroturf, monoblock, predation versus symbiosis, and

the manifesto promises of spring.


Vicki Husband’s first collection of poetry, This Far Back Everything Shimmers, was shortlisted for the Saltire Scottish Poetry Book of the Year 2016. A pamphlet-poem, Sykkel Saga, was published in 2019 by Mariscat. Vicki lives in Glasgow and works for the NHS in community rehabilitation.


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