We Can’t Breathe

Anne Champion
| poetry


I used to believe
it took so much to kill


without a bullet. I didn’t know
the hollowness of bodies,


how hands can lunge
and it can all collapse


like matter. Like nothing
matters. On TV,


a black man chokes.
A Palestinian man chokes.


No guns, no bombs. The body
caves in on itself:


the color of Dead Sea mud
licking the palms of my hands.


The reflection of our shadows
against tanks doesn’t reveal


the ways we perspire
or cry. But I see myself


in the little girl whose
bike careens into barbed wire,


and, still, she laughs. Once,
I was young like her too.


I didn’t know what people
could do to one another.


Once, I didn’t know my own worth,
and tried to snuff my body out,


let the pain slide
from my side until I was smoke,


choking the panicked bodies of those
that loved me. I used to think


this was hard. On TV,
a man walks down his street


peddling homemade cigarettes,
the police wrap his neck in the crook of an elbow,


and he can’t breathe, they can’t
breathe, I can’t breathe—


the breath leaves and I hear
its truth, but how can I live with it?


The man, the police officers,
he belongs, they belong,


we belong to us.

Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), The Good Girl is Always a Ghost (Black Lawrence Press, 2018), and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, Epiphany Magazine, The Pinch, The Greensboro Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, New South, and elsewhere. She was an 2009 Academy of American Poet’s Prize recipient, a Barbara Deming Memorial grant recipient, and a 2015 Best of the Net winner.

My Eden Story
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