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My lungs recall unfondly

Shilpa Kamat

the substitute yoga
teacher who rolls her
eyes when I ask her
not to burn incense–
who reads some swami’s
one-size-fit-all words
about bodies adjusting
even to toxic
smoke from industries
and cigarettes. Meetings
in the barn filled with dusty
and catty couches, starting
always with someone’s
prompting all forty of us
to collectively close
our eyes, to take deep
tandem breaths–forcing
me to choose between
itchier lungs or escape
through wooden doors
to wait with the Douglas
firs and sycamores. Gray
density of Mumbai air giving
first the sensation of bubbles
in the chest, then stripping
my capacity to walk three feet
without the shock of losing
my breath completely: nonstop
wheezing, the twisting of ineffective
old school inhaler, spoons of useless
syrup that make me cough harder
until I give them up. My lungs recall
how that winter, ginger tea and salt
washes save me. How the introductory
grounding practice never alternates
despite consensus process. How
when I speak of the smoky air choking
me, the common shrug-off is, You
should try breathing in Delhi. How
the teacher misreads my polite, Oh
really? and gloats, Absolutely. When
stripped down to essence, we
are all connected and yet, other
bodies cannot know what my body
feels–the way a breath can collapse
and convulse, the way a breath
can heal.

Photo credit: Shilpa Kamat 2020

Shilpa Kamat is a poet, educator, yoga teacher, and healing arts practitioner based in Northern California. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and has been published by a range of magazines, from Strange Horizons to Kweli. Her chapbook, Saraswati Takes Back the Alphabet, was a finalist for the 2018 Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize and was published by Newfound in 2019. You can read more about her work at