Last Words Series – Part Two, "Breath"

This poem wiggles around on the page and has funky spacing, but I thought I’d give it a shot here, because I don’t think you need to have the visual effect in order to read the poem. In fact, I’ve changed some of the line breaks for this post, just because. 🙂


You are wondering why I am
up here with you, why
our blood is mixing together
in the dirt, why our lungs
heave out as if we have
the same spirit
in us
begging to be set free,
why we keep

Each inhalation,
a gasp.
All I want to do
is breathe out
a final time. You, a criminal, exhale.
I inhale
your air.

Do you feel the weight of it
off your chest even now,
before your final sigh?
You wonder why
must last
so long.
For this breathing—
and grace,
guilt and
grace, guilt
and grace—and yet

I assure you,
you will be with me
in Paradise.


This poem relies on what Jesus says to one of the criminals next to him on the cross (“I assure you, today, you will be with me in Paradise”). When writing this poem, I wanted to evoke the physical strain of breathing when suffering, and I also wanted the process of breathing to be that exchange between guilt and grace – salvation at work. I was also thinking of the “breath of life,” breathed into Adam by God back in Genesis, and how Jesus’s breathing on the cross could serve as a second wind, so to speak.

It is phenomenal that Jesus can look over at this confessed criminal and declare that he will join Jesus in paradise that very day. In the face of suffering and grief, the last place I tend to look is at other people’s suffering– my focus is on my own pain and troubles– but Jesus extends mercy, even with his hands and feet nailed through to the cross, even with the weight of the earth pulling at him. Take a deep breath – inhale that mercy. It’s awesome, isn’t it?

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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