Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2022  Vol. 21  No. 2
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translation from Danish by Marilyn Nelson

Breathing Technique
from Vejen går gennem luften (The path leads through the air)
Denmark: Gladiator, 2017

Last night I was training for a swimming competition for girls. But alone, without a swimming coach. I was heart set on winning, but I was swimming in a broad, immeasurable river, and the strong current was against me, it wasn’t like the open-air pool at home, where you could orient yourself with your eyes on the water’s surface the whole time by the lane markers’ bobbing, colored corks. Behind me I heard the thundering sound of a waterfall, so I understood I had to be in another part of the world, maybe in a foreign country, maybe Australia.

But on the riverbanks, I couldn’t see any kangaroos, no emus or eucalyptus trees, only stairs and bridges that stretched along the water. And one of the bridges on the nearest bank was full of skyscraper-dizzy high counters and barstools, where my competitors sat in color-streaming bikinis and swung their long, sunburned swimmer-girls’ legs. Nothing was how I imagined Australia would be. The girls called and toasted and drank from their colorful drinks, while they pointed at me and laughed, as though I was arriving too late and had already lost the race. And the longer I swam, the longer the distance was, the smaller the goal grew. And when a huge wave suddenly rose, I lost control of my breathing and got a noseful of water. I stopped swimming, I flailed about, got cramps in my legs, and swallowed even more water, and at once I knew that my only chance was to start from the beginning with corkboards and swim wings, like when I was little. If I wasn’t going to turn into a piece of wood, a will-less thing, which the currents could catch and carry back to the waterfall, I had to find a new rhythm, a slow, relaxed glide, a new breathing technique.  

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