A Small Needful Fact, by Ross Gay
Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.
[tw: violence, racism, police brutality]
On 17 July 2014, Eric Garner – a 44-year-old black man – was killed by New York police officers, who were arresting him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. His last words were, ‘I can’t breathe’ – eleven times. This poem is an elegy of sorts for him; for all the other black men who have been the victims of police brutality, most recently including Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. I think it’s so powerful because instead of rushing into a moment of fury or high emotion, it manages to zoom on something small and tender; to remind us of all the tiny ways Garner nurtured the world around him; and to mourn for the tragedy of his life being cut short.