29 May 2020

These three words, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

When Chauvin, the blue-collar worker, needs a boulder to move,
he makes his knee a fulcrum and heaves, till something gives.
He says it’s simple physics. “Give me a place to stand,” Archimedes
said, “and I will move the earth.” Yesterday earth shook to the gasp
of a man leaving his body behind, “I can’t breathe” bleeding the sky.

Do we have a way out of this, or like air vacating lungs there is only
wriggling and asphyxia? “I can’t breathe” was proffered in a sacrifice
to the sky of New York, of Minneapolis, and to frightened hours
of black parents. With the same wrinkled patch on his knee he uses
as a prayer rug to stoop before his god on Sunday, he crushed
a windpipe. Can there be two without three? “I can’t breathe”
will rise again like smoke from the chimney of a dying flame.
But where and when will a third death come?

My grandfather killed goats the same way, throttling
the last, bleating glimmer from their eyes with his knee,
before cutting their necks with a homemade blade.
George’s fault was established by the surface of his skin.
His “I can’t breathe” flowed like the woe of a heathen saxophone.
And the scarred hearts of black parents shake in their bones.

My grandfather’s knee was deaf to pleas, there was food
to put on the table. It was first the legs… then the whole body
of an animal fidgeting, its pleas a bleat, sweet and low
as a silhouette hanging from a tree. On my way home after work
A man died on the asphalt of that street. And this will repeat.

David Chauvin
killing George Floyd