Language as a Form of Breath

When English was a shore I hadn’t reached

I tried to speak underwater

my clumsy language   warbling under the current

my tongue weighed down by seashells.


This is before I learned how to swim 

with my shame. Before the color blue 

existed in my mouth     & before breath.

When I found language     she was an old woman 


sitting by the cliff. She knew every fish alive

& her hair was made   of sounds I’ve never heard.

She taught me slowly how to shape letters

out of memory.   I followed language


& sometimes we just cried together under the waves

watching blue whales   give birth. Giant children

made their first sounds. I want to sound 

like that speaking English. She said,    you can.


Tell a story while you’re drowning. It doesn’t need 

to ever reach the shore. A mouth does not need

perfect language to speak,              to be yours.

You’re allowed to just               breathe




Angel Leal is a Latinx, trans/nonbinary writer whose poems have appeared in Strange Horizons, Heartlines Spec, The Deadlands, Solarpunk Magazine, and elsewhere. They’ve been nominated for the Utopia Award, the Pushcart Prize, and are a co-admin of CALAMITOUS, a queer sci-fi and fantasy writing group. You can find them at or floating around Twitter @orbiting_angel

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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