A friend of mine, Clelia Albano, wrote this poem in memory of Eric Garner, who was murdered by a police officer in Staten Island, New York City in 2014. It is meant in solidarity to all victims of police brutality, and it is a plea for justice.
[I would like to update this post with a reference to the murder of George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis in a manner similar to the murder of Garner. Now this poem can be considered a tribute to both victims.]
Here are the verses, each given with vivid photos in the above link. The italics are mine, meant to distinguish her writing from mine.
I CAN’T BREATHE (in memory of Eric Garner)
At my birth with my first breath
uncorrupted by words
I was like the others.
Electronic appendices of
did amplify middling thinking
while I grew up.
Suddenly I found myself on a
where other appendices made
A stain to remove,
a breath, the last,
And yet I am alive.
…and now, for my analysis of the poem.
Life begins and ends with breath, and since Garner was held in a chokehold, repeating the words “I can’t breathe!” eleven times while lying face down on the sidewalk, it is appropriate to emphasize the link between living and breathing.
In the innocence of infancy and early childhood, one is “uncorrupted by words,” which are representative of our introduction into society, for connection with others is through language. Lacan pointed out how we enter the Symbolic Order through language, culture, societal customs, and laws. Normally, this entrance into society is healthy; but in a world laden with racism against blacks, words, customs, and laws corrupt us.
To make matters worse, “electronic appendices of mankind” (which, to me, sound suspiciously like those of social media, which tend to aggravate social alienation rather than mitigate it) “amplify middling thinking,” that is, make us all mediocre–they stunt our development.
There are even worse appendices, though: in particular, the long arm of the law, which can be, and as in Garner’s case, often is, lethal. Being made to “swallow tarmac” is a powerful image expressing the violence of his murder.
The racist cops made him into “a stain to remove,” rather than the living, breathing human being that he really was…not that they’d have ever noticed or cared.
They may have strangled the last breath out of him, but he’s still alive, in all of us, in our memory and love of him, as we stand in solidarity with him and other victims of police brutality.