Breath takes me right now, this minute, this inbreath to George Floyd, choked to death by a cop for doing what I never did find out. I can’t breathe he gasped. I can’t breathe. I didn’t watch the video of him being murdered, but he kept not being able to breathe. On tee shirts, on masks, on facebook posts, he kept being not able to breathe, kept dying for what I never did find out. And every time he showed up, choking, begging for mercy, my own throat closed up and I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t wail or pound a fist on the concrete or spit in the face of the bastard who was choking me. All I could do was pray for my wife, for my kids, pray to Jesus to take me fast. Pray justice would be served. So if you call the cop who killed George Floyd being charged with third degree murder and manslaughter, then ok justice was served but not in my book. I want the scumbag choked until he begged like George Floyd begged, the video going viral as a warning: You cannot steal our lives. You cannot choke off our breath. But they can. And do. And will until we exhale fire and rage and a shout heard as far away as the Amazon, heard by the Indians who are breathing the smoke of their forest, breathing the end of their medicines, their foods, their sacred burial sites, their animal sisters and brothers. I want to unfreeze. I want to stop holding this fucking long breath that cannot unfreeze because of all the horror. I want to put my hand on my neck and count heartbeats. I am alive. I’m sweating. I’m frightened, but fuck if I don’t let out a scream who will? When I was a hospice worker it was always the hardest to sit with the patients with emphysema, knowing their lungs would eventually fill with fluids, that they would sink to the bottom of their own private ocean and drown in their own fluids. Their eyes would open wide like a blowfish caught on a hook, and we would administer morphine to open up the lungs, more morphine to kick-start an inbreath, more morphine if they begged so that their next breath would sail them clear over the finish line. What am I saying? I”m saying breath is power. Breath can be taken from us by the ones who think they own the air, that breath can be squeezed out of us as our lungs become soggy, overburdened with fluid, that breath can be held for a lifetime out of fear, out of neglect, out of self denial, out of living in an environment where there’s only enough oxygen for one, and that one isn’t you. That there comes a time, and I know this sounds like a proclamation and maybe it is, when it’s time to rise up and with the breath we have been holding for years, for lifetimes, scream NO MORE.

candle vigil

Somewhere there is a larger fire, a pyre

stoked by the fury of all that we have come

to understand, all that we could have done

but did not. Its flames lick the underside

of the earth. It propagates needing

only a frenzy of air to fan it to inferno.

I’ll call that the Forest…

If I told you that all of this happens at night,

you wouldn’t believe me. If I told you

all of this happens in the future, always

the Future you would continue following

the scent you could only describe as smoke.

I’ll call that Justice.

But aren’t we talking about mercy and its dark

twin? Isn’t that what is pummeling history

in the side as I write this? Isn’t it the thorn

and the taser? Isn’t it the chokehold

and the gold arm of vengeance? I say it

from my mouth and when it spills forth

it lands on the ground in a pool of light

reflecting back at me the one true blasphemy:

Love and love and love and love and

love and love and love and love and love

and love and love and love and love and

love and love and love and love and love

and love and love and love and love and

love is crowding the street and needs only air

and it lives, over there, in the distance burning.


(Tina Chang, b. 1969)


6 thoughts on “breath

  1. As always Nancy you are right on! Feels like it’s harder to take a full breath these days. But we, the living, must do so.


  2. We must breath and honor the breath that others have had taken away so unjustly, so inhumanely. Breath is life itself. The in breath is an open gesture to say I’m here taking it all inward. The out breath is our release, our expression and when that very life-force is snuffed out by another, it is a slap in the face to the Creator.


  3. The inhumanity is breath-taking. Not just Chauvin (how apropos that the cop’s name reflects his chauvinistic character) but the other three sadists who stood and watched instead of pushing Chauvin off Floyd’s neck. Yes, they are surely guilty too. Thanks for sharing that amazing poem.


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