BREATHE | Sheila Kelly


You are floating in the swimming pool again.

Your childhood best friend rises like prayer.


Freckles gather on your cheeks like ants

on a cracker. You vault between your birth


and the blue of god’s good humor, your legs

jack-knifing curlicue openings in clouds. You


are a girl in love with floating because your mother

is the wind. This means when you pray, you will


always go back to the headlands searching for

the sea-stack broken off in a storm. Your father,


drunk, falling down the steps again, his hand

bloody from trying to break into a locked door.


Smell of stale beer. Your mother wailing 

through the tarry darkness. So you pray inside


clouds again, swan dive to no sound, only filtered

metallic streetlight. She’s still cursing and getting


him to bed and you shout to god: Look at me dive,

my launch and flight! & your best friend rises like


prayer. She tells you tonight you can put on your

old swimsuit, the one the color of a calm breeze.


She is careful, gorgeous — says lives that make us

can kill us. That you can pray for better endings


or give up the old prayer. You vault between

your past and the blue of your friend’s eyes. 


You are floating in the swimming pool again.

You learn to pray underwater and still breathe.



Sheila Kelly writes poems and plays and leads generative writing workshops in libraries, community centers, art galleries, and most recently at the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She is a retired psychotherapist and believes in the healing qualities of undefended speech that poetry invites and that making art is a birthright and not a luxury. Her work has been published in many journals and anthologies, most recently in The Comstock Review, Paterson Literary Review and Pittsburgh Poetry Review.