“My Breath Is Recycled” by Stewart Shaw

Stewart Shaw


“I can’t breathe.”
—Eric Garner’s last words

I would have loved Eric Garner!
Is this wrong to say?
Taken the weight of him in— 
An emotional grounding;
Catching his fall, 
His sweat calamitous and sparking on my skin.
Would have let him call me sanctuary,
Nestling safe beneath my skin.
Trayvon, Amadou, Michael, John
I would have ingested—
Holy Communion. Just to spit
Them out again
Into the world, whole
And safe and beautiful. 
I want black boys to live inside of me, to hold them 
Until it is time for them to come out of hiding.
Want them to call me home,
Friend, brother.
Want Eric safe and heavy breathing
His name into my lungs.
My breath is not my own.
My breath is recycled. 

from Rattle #75, Spring 2022
Tribute to Librarians


Stewart Shaw: “Libraries have always been about more than books and magazines and microfilm, but also places of sanctuary, safety, and peace. Growing up, my local neighborhood library was a place of comfort and personal exploration. It was where I ran to explore books on being black in America, being a boy with queer feelings—where I read books I would be too ashamed to let anyone else know I read. It was a place where I was treated like I belonged with no questions asked. Going from a reader to a library worker to a librarian came naturally to me and I have now worked in public libraries for around 30 years. Public libraries are one of the last free places that invite everyone in—staff might correct your behavior, but the doors are always open to everyone. That public libraries are the every-person’s free university and safe space and community center where neighbors go to chat, catch up, and grow has made me love library spaces even more throughout the years. I have worked as a librarian in juvenile, teen, and adult services. All along the way, I’ve incorporated poetry and poetry events in everything that I have done. Poetry has a function of exposing truths—both hard and gentle to the touch. This is what I see myself as a librarian doing. Public libraries are where two of my loves come together to help me feed my communities.”

Rattle Logo