Welcome to Sunday Morning Lyricality, featuring a weekly song or poem by a Minnesota writer. Our guest editor for February, 2021 is Mary Moore Easter.

Michael Kleber Diggs titles his poem with words you may only know if you suffer from the conditions: apnea, a breath-stopped waking in the night, bruxism, a tooth-crunching grind  asleep and awake. With only two words we are launched into the physical terror of one man’s response to the murder of George Floyd.  The poet is a person who knows before he knows, before he’s willing to know. He lists a line of facts in single words we recognize as representing the whole occurrence first to last, from mundane causes to lethal results. He addresses George Floyd directly as his own body registers similar trauma “gasping for air,” “fists clenched tight,” hope so intense it turned to prayer. His suffering merges with George’s as it did for us watching, as it does again reading this poem.

Mary Moore Easter

Apnea & Bruxism
(I woke to the news you were dead)
Michael Kleber-Diggs

I woke to the news you were dead.
The what arrived before daylight;

the how was agony unfolding as I
dreaded my way back to dusk. Unfolding

against my want not to know
(but I already knew, have known

since I could know): officers, arrest,
Black, man, twenty, video, knee,

sir, back, dollar, 8:, counterfeit,
hands, sorry, 46, mama, please,

breathe, please! Were you tired
George? I feel tired sometimes.

America on my neck–my
lungs compressed so much

they can’t expand/contract–
take in/send out–oxygen/words.

My dentist says I grind my teeth.
My molars are wearing smoothe.

The next night, I jolted awake
to find my fists clenched tight

(some fight), my heart pounding fast,
my mouth hanging open, slack,

not tight that time, just me
on my own gasping for air

6 times a minute–a raspy sound.
The world was darkness; my room was

darkness. I lay in a state of
in between and thought of you

but also God. I wanted the sun
but did not ask. I hoped instead

for a quiet dawn and peace for us,
real peace for us. I hoped so hard

it almost made a prayer.

–for George Floyd

*****

See Michael Kleber-Diggs read “Apnea & Bruxism (I woke to the news you were dead)” from Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. Created for Rain Taxi’s video-launch of the book by the multimedia production company iDream.tv, this lovingly filmed tribute showcases the rage, grief, and sheer power of poetry speaking back to injustice.

Michael Kleber-Diggs is a poet, essayist, and literary critic. His work has been supported by the Jerome Foundation and the Minnesota State Arts Board and has appeared in several journals and anthologies. Michael lives in Saint Paul with his wife, Karen. Click here to order his debut poetry collection Worldly Things, winner of the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, forthcoming in June 2021 from Milkweed Editions.