Epitaph for George Floyd
A mural of George Floyd in Houston. | Aaron M. Sprecher via AP

Greedy for life, that’s what I am,
To draw into my lungs the sweet
Cool breath sometimes a mile high
On Hurricane Ridge or by the banks
Of the Dungeness just feet above sea
Level. I breathe in the fragrance
Of the lilac blooms outside my
Cottage door. I have seen other
Creatures breathing hard like Trumpet,
My sister’s Quarter-horse,
Nostrils flared, her chest heaving with
Each intake of breath after she ran
A mile at a dead-run. And I have
Seen the salmon flopping, gills flaring
In the bottom of the boat struggling to
Draw oxygen from a habitat not for fish.
These are staples of life, inalienable, like
Well water we drink to quench our thirst.

We breathe, we drink and don’t ask
Anyone. It is ours, the air, the water
Free as life itself. I fill my lungs
As the sun comes up, the rays
Caught in the limbs of the alder trees
Along the Dungeness riverbank.
I fill my lungs when the sun sinks
in the west glowing orange and red
caught in the limbs of the cedar trees.

Into the beauty of this nightfall comes
The Black man’s cry, “I can’t breathe…I can’t
Breathe…Mama, mama…I can’t breathe!”
Such a ruthless thief, to steal
Air from a man’s lungs!
Kneeling on his throat
Choking off his cry for life.

A million marchers chant,
“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!”
A million handmade placards
Say, “I can’t breathe.”

From this day forward we no longer
Take for granted that the air is free.
Breathing is a right we fight for!
I gaze at Mount Olympus
Mantled in snow at eight thousand
Feet, oxygen rare.
I hear inside my head
The dying words of George Floyd,
“I can’t breathe…Mama, I can’t breathe!”


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler estimates he has written 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper. He lives in Sequim, Wash., in the home he shared with his beloved late wife Joyce Wheeler. His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a kind of history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view.