Poetry Classroom: After

Welcome to this month’s poetry classroom, with poet and professor Marjorie Maddox. We invite you to respond to the poems we’ll share here—their forms, images, sounds, meanings, surprises—ask questions of Marjorie and each other, and write your own poems along the way.


Listen. You’re breathing
again. The wind flip-flopped past
your chin, leapt off your tongue,
dove head-first toward the lungs
that heaved with the breeze.
This in-and-out is pretty easy
once you have the will.
Oxygen ought to be illegal,
it flies your insides so high
and spins the sky in your eyes.
Look, the horizon is even
and waiting; it’s time
to get living again.

Photo by Jenny Downing. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Poem by Marjorie Maddox, author of the upcoming poetry collection ‘Local News From Someplace Else’


Discussion Questions:

1. How would the poem’s effect potentially be different if the poet had used different punctuation and an alternate line break in lines 1-2? For example, what if the poem had begun like this:

Listen, you’re breathing again.
The wind flip-flopped past

2. Do you think the “in-and-out” deserves further reflection, or is it just a phrase to pass by in the poem?

3. Who, in the poem, thinks should oxygen be illegal? Why do you suppose that is?


  1. says

    Wonderful poem.

    We can lose our breath to so many things; it’s living that sustains us.

    The poem is written as an act of breathing in, as if one long breath is held to be finally released, so using couplets would interrupt that flow of air. I like how the number of words diminishes as we get closer to the concluding line.

    “In-and-out” is not a throwaway but a deliberate consideration of the involuntary that can also be willed.

    The title is rich with implication, perfectly complementing that last line.

  2. says

    I love these questions and insights—intriguing. Line and stanza breaks can be great tools to help emphasize the subject. Can you think of an example in your own work?

    Your comment about the title has gotten me thinking as well. One of my previous books— Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation— focuses on my father’s heart transplant. The catalyst for the above poem, “After,” is my husband’s heart scare a few years ago. In some ways, I think I’ve been writing about the “after” effects of both these experiences for years. Sometimes near-death and death experiences remind us to live, don’t they?

    I’ve heard it said that we often write the same poem (or subjects) much of our lives, just different variations. Poets, do you agree or disagree?

    • L. L. Barkat says

      i have thought about that and I am not sure. I think I write subjects in seasons that sometimes last years. I do think my seasons change, even though my essential self seems to tag along and inform all my work at the deepest levels :)

    • says

      I had never HEARD that (writing the same poem(s) much of our lives) but have thought it… it’s funny you should mention it here because I was recently working on a poem about that… after I realized that my poems from my 20s reflected some of the exact same feelings as in my 40s… I found it disturbing, but maybe that’s just the way life is… we often revisit issues and insights over and over again.

  3. says

    I love how this poem flows. It feels quiet to me in the beginning, like breath… and then escalates to a wild celebration by the end… let’s get going! Another day! Hurrah!!!

    :) To respond to question one… how about this;


    a celebration of breathing if the voice is excited and happy, or a sibling war about to erupt in the back seat where even the closeness of another’s breath creates tension.

  4. says

    Just wanna raise my hand in this classroom, thanks!

    The first line break after “breathing” helps focus on the sound of breathing before wondering about the “again” – I like Donna’s idea too :)

    I suppose the speaker says oxygen should be illegal because it (life itself) can make you ecstatically high, which makes even more sense considering the life crises experienced by Marjorie.

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