To Breathe Without Air

Mexicans are rapists he says

Muslims should register he says

Nasty woman he says


These words are nothing, you say

Merely shadows of thought

Not solid like sticks and stones

These words mean nothing, you say

Let them roll off your back

Like water


But these words are oceans

To drown in

An ocean swallowed whole

And wept out

wave by wave

A thousand paper cuts

From which red ribbons

of blood and humanity flow

The disappearance of air

Until there is nothing


To breathe

Until there is nothing


Of you


So we call out in this airless space

We can’t breathe, we cry

We matter, we yell


Other voices all the while shouting louder

Build the wall they say

Lock her up they say


These words drowning out the cry of humanity

No matter

We shall learn to breathe under water

To breathe without air

We shall shout louder

Katherine Johnson, Duke University

Guest Blogger