Today I wrote a poem about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, and George Floyd who were living in Georgia, Texas, and Minnesota. The first line that came to me was: “in the heat of death nothing matters”, which I deleted from the finished product. It felt ridiculous to write about something I don’t really understand at a visceral level. Being a woman in a patriarchal society is the closest thing I have to compare it to, but race trumps gender in the paranoid land of the United States.
These vile acts of white power stem from history and the reproduction of disregard for Black people in the present-day, every day. The White police officer named Derek Chauvin who continued to kneel on George Floyd’s neck, despite his desperate cries for air and utterances of “please”, has been fired and so have the three other officers on the scene. Fired, that’s it. Floyd was 6’6” and worked security at a Latin Bistro in Minneapolis, where he was known as a “gentle giant” and “big Floyd.” He was a man.
Yesterday I looked up the word “conspire”, which comes from Latin and French words for ‘act’ or ‘plot’ + ‘together’ or ‘with’ + ‘breathe.’ These insights seem germane because to breathe is to be alive and to do it together is fundamental to our life as a species. These men and this woman had their breath stolen from them. They were lynched in full view and all that fool President can say is that it’s “very very sad…I’ll look into it.” Their names are dutifully, and lovingly, added to the heaping list of Black people who are regularly killed by their fellow Americans.
It’s staggering, and I feel nervous to reach out to the Black people in my life to ask how they are doing. Is that stupid? Selfish? Privilege? I didn’t know if I should even write the poem. I reviewed how key celebrities/influencers on Instagram talked about it to make sure I used the ‘right’ hashtags. Is that pathetic? I don’t know. I mulled over my feelings in the dining room, which was prematurely dark this afternoon because I had the shades pulled to evade the heat. I sat at the table and cried, then wrote.
I end up settling for a simpler poem than I originally started with that drew upon ideas related to the word “conspire.” Something I didn’t include is the fact that “breath” and “breathe” are synonymous with terms for God/divinity in many cultures. I learned this decades ago, not in a classroom but in the opening pages of The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie. To take in air is to become alive and be known as a sentient being by others.
Although I may have gotten things wrong with the poem, I do know something I got right. That is the beauty of trauma, which can sometimes be used as a connective force of untold power. To write, to protest, to kneel…These are acts of solidarity, respect, and a way to draw upon our collective energies in the righteous pursuit of equality.