I can’t breathe

Yesterday afternoon my daughter and I attended a small, peaceful march in our town, Golden. I have lived in Golden for two years and I adore it; I also feel like in some ways I am meant to live here because I lived here for awhile as a baby and returned at age 39. Golden is many things, including a college town, a factory town, and a Denver suburb.

Golden has some diversity, no doubt, but it is mostly white. Most, though certainly not all, of the people who gathered around the creek to write positive chalk messages on the sidewalk were white. We all wore masks.

After writing the chalk messages, we walked for about 25 minutes carrying signs. Here are some of the chalk messages and signs, including my sign, which is first below:

One sign I did not photograph simply displayed George Floyd’s last words. The woman carrying the sign was near me. As I read them, over and over, I had to stave off panic. I had to stave off grief. And I kept hearing the white children marching around me, remark, totally innocently, about wearing their masks in to 90-degree heat: “I can’t breathe.”

Many white parents, especially those who never discussed racism, white privilege, or racial justice in their schools or in the homes they were raised in, feel at a loss about how to talk about race with their own children. I have done a fair amount of work in this area beginning in college, including a variety of work in education and the work of writing a book of poetry around racism. I am starting a virtual book club for white parents who are raising white children. We’ll read the book Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, which you can read about in the link, but here is the basic idea: Talking about race means naming the reality of white privilege and hierarchy. How do we talk about race honestly, then, without making our children feel bad about being white? Most importantly, how do we do any of this in age-appropriate ways? We’ll meet through Zoom in 40 minute meets every two weeks to share passages that stood out to us, our thoughts about the reading, and our questions. I will guide the discussions and follow up after each meeting with resources.

Here is the schedule:

Sunday, July 5, 4:00 to 4:40 PM MDT: introduction, chapters 1 and 2
Sunday July 19, 4:00 to 4:40 PM MDT: chapters 3 and 4
Sunday, August 2, 4:00 to 4:40 PM MDT: chapters 5 and 6
Sunday, August 16, 4:00 to 4:40 PM MDT: chapter 7 and conclusion

To join, email me at kimoco704 at gmail dot com

To close, here are George Floyd’s last words:

“It’s my face man
I didn’t do nothing serious man
please
please
please I can’t breathe
please man
please somebody
please man
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe
Please
(Inaudible)
man can’t breathe, my face
just get up
I can’t breathe
please (inaudible)
I can’t breathe sh*t
I will
I can’t move
mama
mama
I can’t
my knee
my nuts
I’m through
I’m through
I’m claustrophobic
my stomach hurt
my neck hurts
everything hurts
some water or something
please
please
I can’t breathe officer
don’t kill me
they gon’ kill me man
come on man
I cannot breathe
I cannot breathe
they gon’ kill me
they gon’ kill me
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe
please sir
please
please
please I can’t breathe”

I am so sorry, so, so sorry.

This poem is from Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen. Read it here.

The quotation I chose as a title for this post is from the last section of the poem, when the trauma counselor the speaker has an appointment with viciously orders her to leave when she rings the bell for her appointment. The therapist does not realize that she is there for an appointment, and is afraid of her, because she is black.

If When

This is a poem I wrote in 2016–four years ago–after Philando Castille was killed by a police officer after being asked to reach for his ID. His girlfriend filmed the aftermath of the shooting and put it on Facebook. Read more–including that the officer who shot him was eventually found not guilty of second degree manslaughter and that Castille had been stopped by the police at least 46 other times in his life–here.

If you are a white person who does not understand what is happening across the country, please try to get past being upset about the looting, arson, and vandalism that are part of the protests. Obviously none of these are good things. But white people cannot keep shrugging their shoulders and stopping with that judgement. This opinion piece from the Chicago Tribune points out that nonviolent protests like NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem have been condemned or ignored and is worth reading in full.

I’ll be featuring links and poems about racial justice on my blog for the next two weeks.

If When

if when I read the news that a person whose name I did not know

whose name will now be famous

will be forever spoken with fathomless grief

I am wearing a black dress

if when I say person I mean black man

if when you read person you think or don’t think

black man

if when I keep reading I can’t stop crying

or can’t cry or am unable to keep working

or keep working if I am paralyzed

if I keep working when I see the video

if I watch it or don’t watch it if when

I read the words I am right here with you mommy

I want to vomit

if I am wearing a black dress if

I am a white woman if I have forgotten

the names if you remember the names

if I list words from the news stories police

Minneapolis federal inquiry multiple gunshot

wounds cafeteria supervisor protestors weeping

if you throw rocks riot control snipers

multiple gunshots protestors video sir Dallas

Baton Rouge nephew brother son mother child

if the police stop you comply say sir

if the police say sir weeping

if I list the names or don’t list the names

if the list of names is too long to list

if the list could fill a thousand pages longer

if when this happens I write this will I have done anything

worth doing will I do anything

Quarantine Dream

Here is an original one-line poem for your amusement on a Sunday. (If you want more one-line poems, check out Michael McFee’s The Smallest Talk. The best $6 you’ll spend all year.)

Quarantine Dream

First we shook hands; then we French kissed.

Like a white snail…

This poem contains what has to be the best simile in all of literature.

WITH SINCEREST REGRETS

Russell Edson

Like a white snail the toilet slides into the living room, demanding to be loved.

It is impossible, and we tender our sincerest regrets.

In the book of the heart there is no mention made of plumbing.

And though we have spent our intimacy many times with you, you belong to a rather unfortunate reference, which we would rather not embrace…

The toilet slides out of the living room like a white snail, flushing with grief…

“dark dark and never again”

This is one of my favorite poems whose poem itself answers the question that is the poem’s title.

WHAT DO YOU WRITE ABOUT, WHERE DO YOUR IDEAS COME FROM?

Charles Wright, Appalachia

 

Landscape, of course, the idea of God and language

itself, that pure grace

which is invisible and sure and clear,

fall equinox two hours old,

pine cones dangling and doomed over peach tree and privet,

clouds bulbous and buzzard-traced.

The Big Empty is also a subject of some note,

dark dark and never again,

the missing word and there you have it,

heart and heart beat,

never again and never again,

backdrop of backyard and earth and sky

jury-rigged carefully into place,

wind from the west and then some,

everything up and running hard,

everything under way,

never again never again.

Fun poem for springtime

Here’s a poem I retyped by e.e. cummings. A fun poem for this time of year. I used to read this one with high school students. I promise it does have a fun organic logic. Enjoy!

 

r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r

e. e. cummings

 

r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r

 

who

 

a)s w(e  loo)k

 

upnowgath

 

PPEGORHRASS

 

eringint(o-

 

aThe):l

eA

!p: S                                                a

 

(r   rIvInG                              .gRrEaPsPhOs)

 

to

 

rea(be)rran(com)gi(e)ngly

 

,grasshopper;