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Death by Breaths

Death by Breaths
by Gerri Leen

It comes, the rattling cough
The blood-spotted rags
Wracking my body, ripping my ribs
I reach for laudanum, weak fingers
Gripping the stopper, turning with pain
Shooting up from joints grown old
Broken and twisted
I look like the gnarled elm
Come, my pretties
Not so effective when doubled over
Hacking life out with each breath

Children run from the blood
Before I have a chance to spill any of theirs

My house, so charming, full of dolls and
Wagons and miniature chargers
Rearing for imaginary battle
Eat up, eat up, laudanum used
On them, not myself
Infused in sweets, the taste overshadowed
By sugar and rich cream
Lapped up by small tongues
Now I cough into my warmed milk
Blood speckling like ripped nutmeg
Crimson sprinkles of leaking life

No one comes to see me
Save the apothecary's boy

Can't kill him or there'd be no more
Medicine, the beloved tincture
That shortens my life even as
It gives sweet relief from the pain
Sending me into dreams that cause
Sweaty chills as I meet the maker of curses
The lord of the witches
As I am judged: death becomes me
Screaming even more so
I dream my future and it is torment

I drink the laudanum anyway
At least in Hell I will not cough alone

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Death by Breaths was originally published in Darkling’s Beasts and Brews: Poetry with a Drink on the Side, Lycan Valley Press, 2018

* * *

Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. She has poetry published in: Eye to the Telescope, Star*Line, Dreams & Nightmares, Songs of Eretz, Polu Texni, The Future Fire, and others. She also writes fiction in many genres (as Gerri Leen for speculative and mainstream, and Kim Strattford for romance). Visit or to see what else she's been up to.

What advice do you have for other poets?

Never stop experimenting or trying. Interact with other poets (in a poetry forum or workshop or somewhere else collaborative and playful) if at all possible so you learn from others and have fun creating. Write from prompts, from pictures, from situations, from strong emotions. Give yourself permission to fail, tinker with your poems when you think they need it (unlike stories, they seem to rarely be truly finished), and be true to your own style and vision (but don't be afraid to study and grow—maturing your way into new forms isn't the same as selling out your style).