Air Quality

The neighbor is burning brush in his front yard,
so our valley, already choked with tree pollen,
fills with pale smoke & smells like September,
when leaves raked over coals flare like comets.
Asthma diagnoses exceed the national average here—
we weep & sneeze & have favorite antihistamines
& keep windows closed from March to September
if we can afford to run the air. If not, we suffer it.
I traced words, symbols, in the pollen covering
car hoods and porch furniture, as a child.
My sisters & I rubbed buttercups on our cheeks,
hard, leaving the gold blush that made us fairies
of the meadow. We knew holidays were coming
when grass felt cool on bare feet & bonfires
began to glow in backyards and back forties,
the smoke invisible at night, or only visible
as the current pushing sparks over our heads
& into the stars. Three of my siblings had asthma
as children—two still do—so I learned how breath
or no breath limits the imagination—it prioritizes.
Once, my brother, aged four, couldn’t breathe
& while I saw our mother rushing for the nebulizer,
dropping Albuterol into its chamber with shaking
hands, the only face I still see is my brother’s,
an intensity of focus it never wore, eyes fixed on
nowhere, body still except for the concave belly
trying to fill, jugular notch hollow & hollower,
asking for a mouthful of any air, any air at all.