I Can't Breathe: A Tribute to George Floyd
Sanity and beauty—where are they to be found these days?
Not it seems in the pleas of a man saying, “I can’t breathe.”
Not in the rattling events following that plea and the others before it. So if you’re feeling on edge or coming unhinged as you watch and listen to the news, there’s good reason for it.
But try writing your way to some sanity and beauty.
Write a note to self or someone, a poem, a journal entry, anything.
Just reclaim the beauty and power of words.
Then share your beautiful words.
I Can’t Breathe
because the image of knees on neck constricts my chest and
chokes words that want air to aspirate, to navigate open spaces
to air grievances because such an image suffocates senses and
sends signals to hold my blackness tightly in a breathless pose
because watching the news is not safe, I tell you, not while
police patrol and justice does not roll; instead streets flame,
and glass shatter and crowds gather in a pandemic
pandemonium, people isolating in proximity, masked masses
unmasking America’s naked shame,
because we heard him say it again, as others said it: I can’t breathe.
I can’t breathe because history heaps weights on my head heavy like
lead and I walk like I’m bearing baskets of books to market, volumes
and volumes that chronicle stories and state policies that become
obsolete like the dead though I want to save the living
black boys still breathing and tell them:
when the police stops you, start your phone recording and smile,
speak clearly, answer ‘Yes, Officer,’ show your hands, give your hands if asked
because you may be able to breathe after, you and your mother.
I can’t breathe now because I’ve been singing blues from my playlist,
been seeing an image of strange fruit hanging and feeling
heartbreak wet on my cheeks and I’m wondering
when my breathing will return to normal rhythms.
I can’t breathe
because the root word, race, and its various derivatives
thrice mentioned in the last two minutes drained air
from the Zoom room and I’m hesitant to take the last breath,
and leave breathless someone who just said, ‘I’m not racist, but truth be told...’
But truth be told, I don’t know that you know how blackness
is lived in whiteness. Do you have truth
enough to confront white lies that underlie privileged truth
because a different air blows through your windows?
Aah, the room is spinning a web around me and I am caught and
I can’t breathe, can you?
About the Author
Vilma Blenman is a retired teacher, published writer and mother of two millennials. She currently works as an RP (Registered Psychotherapist), gardens and writes poetry to process social and spiritual issues. Vilma and her husband live in Pickering, ON.