Today's poem is by Suzanne Heyd

Elemental: Nitrogen

Four-fifths of every breath
we breathe at least
two forms, one combustible

one pure asphyxiate, azote,
artless in the free state,
insufficient. O inertia, save us

from the explosive steerage
of ground tanks, sailing vessels.
Sal volatile easily passing

to aeriform—winged or buoyant,
wasting away. Heart shorn, impure
distillate of antler or any bone.

Dephlogisticated, a body denied
the hypothetical principle
of fire. What release in burning:

a pure phlogiston, once thought
to perish as sulfur or soot.
Yet even now, the gray skies

rain acid on the barren city
of Shechem. Sal ammoniac, salt
of amen, soot of the camel

at the temple of Jupiter Ammon.
Fertility rivers its pollutions
on fields of flame-clustered phlox,

garlands of gamopetalous limbs,
inner whorl of the perianth,
fecund protective envelope ablaze.

White purples and pink reds
on the craggy face of Jebel Usdum,
south of the Dead Sea. Sal petrae

exudes from mineral crater and cave.
Gunpowder, the gods provoked
have slain Niobe's pride. We stand

petrified with grief. Constituent
of the living tissues, thou shalt rub
thy children newborn with salt.

Sal hartshorn in order to soften or
toughen, in order to render less brittle.

Sal volatile in order to kindle,
or burn, in order to separate strands.

Sal petrae to build pressure, to force
the oil upwards, in order to blacken.

Sal ammoniac in order to induce union,
or color, in order to temper the senses.

Disciples of perpetual obligation,
this is our covenent, four-fifths
of every breath we breathe at least.

Copyright © 2005 Suzanne Heyd All rights reserved
from Beloit Poetry Journal
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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