Book Spotlight – Count Each Breath – Maria James-Thiaw

Can you share one highlight from the book? 

Count Each Breath is a book of poetry.  It has a variety of poems. One of my favorites is called Chronic. It deals with the healthcare disparities black women face. 

I lay in bed stretching out old age like a fitted sheet. 

It has blanketed me since my twenties. At that age, doctors’ ears are free to float away from you as if they had wings attached. Their eyes bubble, distort, then droop like Dali’s clocks as you point to hot, swollen joints.  

Red means emergency. Red means stop. 

Red is dull and unassuming on brown skin. 

In the next room, a man with white hair holds a melting muscle behind his crow’s feet. 

His joints are swollen too, distorting his fingers. 

This does not need dissecting or figured out. 

His keys are in the cookie jar; his watch is in the fridge. 

His knees grind when he bends. 

Red screams from pallid skin. 

His ailments live in textbooks. 

I limp to the mirror, each cautious step battles the stiffness that has set in overnight. 

Silver hairs fight black for domination. 

They’ve planted themselves like a flag in a foreign land.  

They declare themselves sovereign and entitled to live here. They tell me, because of them, my pain has meaning, but I arrive in the office still black and thick as most of my mane. 

He is blinded by the whiteness of his coat. 

Red masks my vision as his eyes bubble distort and droop. 

His face melts into the textbook again. 

What is the purpose of this book?

 It was cathartic for me to write about the state of the world from my own perspective. I knew it was a historic time and we needed to document it. I also needed to show other women dealing with chronic illnesses that they are not alone. 

 Are there themes that you find turn up again and again in your work? A common thread?

 I tend to write social justice themes – feminism, black pride, and anti-racism are reoccurring themes. This book deals directly with healthcare disparities.

Which character or part of the book was the most fun to write? Which part was the hardest?

I had fun writing the haiku about Karens. They were an interesting part of 2020!  The First Fourteen were tough because of how real it was. Those first two weeks of the pandemic were scary.

Can you tell us something that even your most loyal fans may not know about you?

 I love adult coloring books! I could spend hours coloring. It is fun, creative, and meditative. I enjoy it.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I’m also a playwright and my next play is called HairStory: Reclaiming Our Crown. It will be performed at Gamut Theatre in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on May 7 through the 10th.

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