In 1438 the dying were buried before they were dead, thirty seconds before their eyes closed. To look at the faces of the dead was thought to bring a lifetime of bad luck. The family of the soon-to-be deceased stood by the freshly dug grave, waited to catch their loved one’s last breath as it slipped through a crack in the casket. The youngest daughter was charged with catching the breath, which sounded like a sparrow sighing when squeezed in the palm of a hand. The heart of a willow tree was shaped into a container to hold the breath, its edges sealed with wax. Breath-catching continued for almost two centuries until it was abolished in the mid-1600s. One evening in late summer, all captive breaths were set free. A cacophony of sound split the sky’s curved dome. The night braced against trillions of dusty sighs.
Shivani Mehta was born in Mumbai and raised in Singapore. She moved to New York to attend Hamilton College and then earned a Juris Doctor from Syracuse University College of Law. Her prose poems have appeared in Narrative Magazine, Coachella Review, Cold Mountain Review, Fjord’s Review, The Normal School, Midwest Quarterly Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly. Shivani is the accomplished mother of toddler twins. Incredibly, they sleep long enough to allow her to write prose poems. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, children, dog, two cats, and several fish.