The Human Genre Project

Ondine's Curse


The water nymph who named the curse
plagued her faithless lover in his sleep.

He swore his every waking breath
a testament to his love for her,
but failed. When Ondine caught him
in another’s throes, she swore as well.

Swore that when her lover fell asleep
he would forget his breath.
And when his body, toxic with exhaustion,
finally dropped, his breathing stopped.


In the slow-wave sleep of no dreams
the nerves forgets hypoxia, hypercapnia.

The automatic motions of the body stop—
one must focus, remember to breathe.

The nymph cursed her lover,
the adulterer, to suffocate for his sins,
but now infants die in their sleep.

PHOX2B is a human gene located on chromosome 4. Mutations in human PHOX2B (at 4p12) cause a rare disease of the visceral nervous system (or dysautonomia): Ondine’s curse or Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS), which is associated with respiratory arrests during sleep.

Aiko Harman