by Janet Shaw

After so much champagne and praline mousse,
and drunk on candles and laughter, too,
we drive back singing Oklahoma!
tenor and soprano with the heater hum,
when headlong we race from a tunnel of black spruce
into the flood of moon.

It follows us home. Later, as we huddle under quilts,
the moon pries open our roof, shoves it aside,
and pulls us to it on its indrawn breath.
Helplessly, we rise like white smoke.
Our hair floats and fans
as light strips off our nightclothes.
Naked, we peer down on what we’ve left behind:
streetlamps and roads, lakes and rivers, and all regrets.
Then we catch a sudden updraft and the whole vast planet
lies spread beneath a clean tablecloth of moonlight.

Our bodies fall away from us now;
our loosened spirits rise,
spreading outward across bright air like rings on water,
our last thin dreams clinging to us
before spilling down with all the others
into the milk of layered clouds.

Janet Shaw’s poetry and fiction have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Redbook, The American Poetry Review, The New Orleans Review, Antaeus, and many other journals. She has written historical fiction for young readers, creating the characters of Kirsten Larson and the Nez Perce girl Kaya for American Girl.

About Exhalation—This poem was a response to an assignment that began,“First, choose some kind of pastry, because pastry is a transcendent subject for most of us.” We all seized on that assignment with delight!

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