Choking – #poetscorner

In #poetscorner, Features, HOME, LITERATURE by Eloise Hendy

#poetscorner is a feature in which PTL Editors ask writers to share a poem of theirs with the internet. We also ask them to divulge on how they started writing poetry, what inspired the poem in question and why it remains a personal favourite. The idea being to bask in the glory of the written and/or spoken word. Oh dear…

I was having an essay crisis in late November. I felt trapped, unable to get my thoughts across properly; I was berating myself and berating the university lifestyle.

It was during an extended, annoyed procrastination session that the news that the shooter of Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, would not be indicted, broke like a tsunami wave over Ferguson and the Internet. My self-absorbed stress immediately felt petty. Any frustration paled into insignificance in comparison to the anger I felt at the prejudiced injustice being all too obviously played out on the world stage. The educational requirements I was railing against, the very ability to feel frustrated at my University education, suddenly struck me as the privileges they are.

I am a middle class girl, brought up in Oxford. I go to a Russell group University. I easily define myself as white British. The ‘prison industrial complex’ might be something I think about, read about and discuss, but it is definitely not something I have to confront in anything but an academic, theoretical way. I do not feel afraid of, or threatened by police. Even though I have been witness to racism, I have never been the victim. In my daily life, I am wrapped in a privileged, protective bubble-wrap against the visceral knowledge of racism, institutional or otherwise.

The events in Ferguson, and the riots that followed, struck me, as they struck many others, because they brought crashing down any kind of rose-tinted sense that such blatant and endemic racism is increasingly a thing of the past.

Then the police officer, clearly seen on video choking Eric Garner to the point of unconsciousness and eventual death, was cleared of charges. The promise that body-cameras would help to solve the ‘ambivalences’ in police shooting cases was dirtied. The repeated final words of Garner, spoken 11 times before the chokehold he was in suffocated him, rang in my mind. As for many others who flocked to the streets holding placards or wearing t-shirts bearing the words ‘I Can’t Breathe’, the words seemed to hold a horribly poignant, grave significance.

cant_breatheI may not be able to express myself exactly, I may not be able to speak my mind clearly, let alone speak for others, but I am given airtime. I am given the space and the opportunity to voice my thoughts and opinions. I am frequently listened to. I am not personally stifled or suffocated by the system. When will everyone, regardless of race or class, be able to take breath and say the same? 


Foreheads pressed to pavements

Nose to the grindstone

Barricades and broken homes

Another mother is crying at the curb

Cut the cord and bite the hand that feeds


Wombs spilling umbilical nooses

Same old story

Same lines drawn in the sand

Drawing swords and blood

Stay within the lines


Behind the rope or behind bars

Show your hand

Hold them high

Salute the white flag

Raised like a fist


Take off those hoods

The war on terror ran away from home

To fight dragons under others’ bed

But there be monsters

Don’t look under the sheets


On your knees

Palm to palm, no evil seen

Maybe this was all a dream

Love of country and of King

Declare freedom and free money

One nation under God

Stand up and be counted

Get your head in the game

And may the best team win

The starting block is sinking

Concrete ankle bracelets

And crowns of thorns

Fit to kill a King

And set fires in Queens


White houses

White picket fences

White wash

I think I was dreaming

But I’m awake now.

I can’t breathe.

Eloise Hendy

Ella is the Deputy Editor of LITERATURE at PTL. She owns a dog but suspects she is probably more of a cat person. The shame. Ella tries to be a green tea drinking, yoga practicing, artsy kid of girl but often her love for caffeine, white wine, tequila and dodgy mash-ups (Snoog Dogg/Grease anyone?) makes this difficult. But hey, a girl can dream.

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(Image sourced from: here)