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What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath

I Can't Breathe

Johnston, Michelle MBBS

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000719096.36818.52
    racial bias, poem

    Once in a while

    I'd like to take out my eyes.

    Pop them in a small canvas bag, my ears too.

    These human horrors are not inevitable,

    Yet they come to us

    Like wild creatures, sock-eyed and thrashing.

    Smoke-filled lungs, charred fingertips all the way up,

    A candle knocked over, a fight,

    Two young girls. On your gurneys, under your casino bright lights,

    Near you with masks squashed to their faces like plastic shrouds

    Soon to be changed for tubes.

    You're their parents now; their own in cuffs, or dead.

    The littlest one gestures wildly before you make her gray with sleep.

    I can't breathe.

    The flames that devoured a countryside the size of a moon

    As wild, too.

    Before, green like the ocean depths and cool

    Now black, scorched. Not even a tendril of smoke remaining,

    A scar with no secondary intention of healing.

    Three billion animals and counting, scattered like ash

    From your mother's urn.

    And school children with homemade face cloths

    Coming in to you, dragged and wheeled, their wheezes louder than a dust-devil

    Then quiet.

    I can't breathe.

    Citizens, rightful, have stepped out to speak

    Time is now, time is up, time is done

    Eyes are open, eyes are shamed, eyes are back in our head

    Across countries, through avenues, up to monuments, then down

    Masked in solidarity, saying what needs to be said with their millions of feet.

    Met by men with knees and history and chemical showers,

    On their chests and their necks and their eyes, running blue, running red.

    I can't breathe.

    Just a day, inside, without eyes, without ears.

    Not too much to ask.

    Our hearts could hum their own songs,

    Cushioned away from

    Man's inhumanity to man.

    In the distance just some quiet choir of ghosts.

    An image dancing on the edges of our vision.

    And our lungs could breathe.

    I could. I can.

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    Dr. Johnstonis a board-certified emergency physician, thus the same as you but with a weird accent. She works in a trauma center situated down the unfashionable end of Perth, Western Australia. She is the author of the novel Dustfall, available on her website, She also contributes regularly to the blog, Life in the Fast Lane, Follow her on Twitter@Eleytherius, and read her past columns at

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