Two days into the wildfires that broke out near my home in Greece this last summer, when the sun had been blurry and soot was building up in flowerpots on the windowsill, I had the most depressive realization. The ash I was to be wiping off my kitchen counter for days on end used to be organic matter. Trees, yes, but animals and people, too. As with each sweep an ashy cloud formed in front me, getting in my nose and eyes and mouth, a frightening question formed as well: was I breathing in the dead? The answer might be yes or no, depending on one’s viewpoint and level of cynicism. The ash was previously organic life and even flesh, but it wasn’t anymore. Still, I felt that all of my bodily organs, my lungs especially, were witnessing the aftermath of the catastrophe. Our lungs are the primary recording device for the bounties and boons of humankind’s progress.
Breathing as witnessing (of that which is dead but also that which survives) is the topic of Tendon’s fourth issue. Through different media, the contributors untangle the intricacies of constantly taking notice of one’s breath—and the way “organs becom[e] unfamiliar to themselves” (Norwood). Zooming in to the process of breathing and its attendant habits, El Halabi, Hill-Woods, and Fecker compose anti-mindfulness poems, where minding one’s breath becomes tied to realizations of danger and existential dread. But even through this forced introspection, Cann, Norwood, and Grinnell beautifully depict relationships and connectivity through the prism of breathing. Zanolini examines the aesthetics of a fusion between the cosmic and individual breath, while Naouai cleverly turns breath into poetic rhythm, bringing to the fore breath’s relationship with human time. In turn, Lella, Turner, and Mogen focus on the aesthetics of breathing and the representations of what “Bated Breath” might look like (Mogen). Expertly performing critical medical humanities work with a view to individual responsibility and experience, Seth, in their critical perspectives piece, and Graye, in their poem, tackle breathlessness as a symptom of who we become.
The freshness of approaches on a topic that dominated our news feed and colonized our thoughts for many months is itself a nod to the breath’s most valuable quality: every breath we manage to take is experienced as if for the first time.