National Poetry Month 2023: Day 23

Tonight I’m featuring another lovely poem by Elina Petrova. I especially admire the seamless way it inhabits both present and past, familiar and unfamiliar spaces, meditation and memory. My own practice of mindfulness is a constant battle to focus, and this poem highlights that tension really well.

Quỳnh Says

“Breathe in. Push out. Close your eyes
and focus on sensations — scan your body.”

First time I squint, I see a younger version
of myself — all in black, with a ponytail.
“Breathe in. Let it go.”

Second time, I see petals. I’m in a boat laden
with hydrangeas and mangoes — a Vietnamese
with features of a lady breathing near me
on her green yoga mat. It doesn’t matter — her
or me. Everyone at their best is a mere breath,
a zipped pain, their first-love key keeper.
Say thanks to the heart that kept working
while you thought you couldn’t endure
anymore. Say thanks to the liver that kept
filtering toxins from frustration drinks.

Third time, I close my eyes, I open them
in the floating darkness with countless
emerald dots that remind me of a colored
X-ray image from the TESS telescope.
How do they register stellar music?
There is no sound in the cosmos. Leave
your iPad and talk to me while on the earth —
I’m a good listener. Attention is love.
Petals, petals … Thin soil to blossom.
A thin layer of oxygen to breathe —
less than four miles to stop the climb.
And 100,000 miles of brain vessels
to wire each thought with that oxygen.

Lying with twenty-seven Vietnamese
on the laminate floor above the
Hong Kong Food Market, I watch —
in a dark room — the full moon behind
a silhouette of Quỳnh leading Qigong
meditation in English. I hear old Xuân
pushing shopping carts in the corridor
to mop the white porcelain floor.
I watch the moonlit faces of my neighbors
napping on their mats, the same way
I glance at people saying grace,
the same way that, back in the USSR,
I used to glance at children
during nap time in kindergarten —
with some good thought about them,
as if I was not one of them.


Until 2007 Elina Petrova lived in Ukraine and worked in engineering management. She published two poetry books in English (Aching Miracle, 2015, and Desert Candles, 2019) and one in her native Russian language. Elina’s poems have appeared in Notre Dame Review, Texas Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Southwestern American Literature, Porter House Review, California Quarterly; anthologies by presses of Sul Ross State University, Lamar University and elsewhere. You can find her online at

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