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  • Writer's picturevilmablenman

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.


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