Discovery

04/01/2013

A poem, for your consideration. This poem comes out of the fact that I’m currently reading “A People’s History of the United States from 1492 – Present” by Howard Zinn, which is an absolutely excellent book (thus far). Zinn looks at American history from the perspective of the person, not the traditional writers of history, which gives a very unique, provocative perspective on the history being examined. It is history unlike any you’ve ever encountered … and, it is truly compelling. The opening chapter is about the “discovery” of the “New World” by Columbus, which served as the inspiration for this poem. I hope you enjoy it (the opening was also partly inspired by Portia’s speech from “The Merchant of Venice” – heavily paraphrased).

Discovery

The quality of mercy is strained
dripping with gentleness
lacking mercy
they claim it has descended from heaven and
it has fallen
unto hallowed ground
made fertile from the blood
of the warriors
lying dead
alongside their children and
the women who died protecting them and
the old men
torn asunder by
weapons of war
levelled against a population
living without knowledge
of colonialism or the greed it arouses
armed only with spears of cane
incapable of piercing
armour worn by visitors
from distant lands
the peaceful Arawak
witnessed the coming of their
worst nightmares
turning the natives of the Bahamas,
Hispaniola, and the rest of the
New World into little more than slaves
forced to satisfy
Columbus’ thirst for gold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Be it Resolved

31/12/2012

At the end of every year it is traditional for people to make resolutions for the year to come, but I’ve never been one to make such resolutions as they often fall by the wayside sooner rather than later. Rather than resolutions, however, this is as good a time as any to set some goals for the coming year. Call them resolutions if you will, if it makes you happy, but they’re really just goals. The only good thing about having a “New Year’s Resolution” is that by announcing it to several people you may have a greater chance of achieving your goal (there’s that word again) rather than if you kept it to yourself.

So … what could I possible want to do in 2013?

In my Creative life:
I’d like to compose and write more and waste less time with things that aren’t productive and I’d also like to read more. Much more.

In my Personal life:
I’d like to continue to lose weight and exercise more. At the end of 2012 I’ve lost 30lbs (since October) and would like to see another 50 leave … that would be wonderful. This means sticking to the new lifestyle that I’ve been trying to adopt which includes virtually no meat and a mostly vegetarian diet/lifestyle (I hate the word diet – it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle).

I’d like to meditate more; relax more, be stressed less … and by losing weight (hopefully) be in less pain (though this hasn’t happened yet).

In my Online life (if such a thing can be called a “life”):
I’d like to be more active in – and aware of – Canadian political issues, and involved in more Civil Rights and Human Rights issues in general.
I would also like to (try) to make more consistent, regular updates to my blog(s) and website (oh, how often have I made this goal, only to see it die an untimely death …?).

I’m sure there’s more … there always is, but that’s more than enough for now, I’m sure.

To everyone out there, have a safe, enjoyable, and happy New Year – and remember – it’s only one day … tomorrow is another, life goes on after New Year’s Day (so don’t get too blasted).

Banned Words be Damned!

30/12/2012

At the end of every year there seems to be a desire on the part of some academics to “clean up” or otherwise “repair” the English language. While in this day of hacked-up sentences as a result of the truncation of our language thanks to texts and tweets, there are some things that may be going just a bit too far. Lake Superior State University has, perhaps, crossed the line of being a protector of the language to being inappropriate in their zeal to guard the development of our Lingua Franca.

Whether we like it or not, English is a living, growing, and evolving language. It’s literature is the pulse of its health and represents the best, and the worst, of what is happening at the core of the language. Literature is not, however, the only barometer by which we measure the use of language. The printed media must be part of the equation, and then there is the great democratiser of language, that which allows equal participation to anyone who can find a way to connect: the Net. Through the Internet anyone can express their ideas, in whatever words they may choose to use (appropriateness be damned).

Before the emergence of the Internet we could only rely on the printed word – the published word as the transmission of new language. The spoken word was relatively restricted to regional influences that only went as far as the individual travelled. The Internet allows someone to have as great an influence as some small newspapers a century ago, if not more, thanks to things like Twitter and Facebook, and the dissemination of videos through uTube and other sources. Which brings me back to Lake Superior State University.

LSSU has a tradition of “banning words” based on nominations. On the surface it is a totally harmless, humorous thing, and totally dismissible, but there is an underlying intellectual snobbery here that makes it easy to understand why there has been so much animus and overt animosity towards higher education during the past electoral cycle in the United States. Banning words: think about that for a second; if you are banning what people can say, as a word, how far are they from suggesting which books should be banned … perhaps burned? After all, controlling the way people think – the things they can say – is the ultimate repression. It may very well be a joke, and some of the words are ridiculous … but banning them? How about educating people so that they have a richer vocabulary and aren’t forced to limit their choices to such mundane samples of silliness.

Below is a poem that uses the banned words. The link to the LSSU site is here, so you can see all of the words and their meanings. The banned words appear in capital letters.

THANK YOU IN ADVANCE (yes – using it as the title might be cheating … I’ll use it again, I promise)

It is THE NEW NORMAL for them to hide
in their MAN CAVE when told of the AMAZING
BABY BUMP now growing to GINORMOUS proportions
(but this will be a SHARED SACRIFICE you say
as she retches in the morning)
the BLOW BACK from this comes
as you serve as PET PARENT to your
perpetually neurotic poodle who ruins
yet another cardigan
you will WIN THE FUTURE for you
when you OCCUPY the kitchen and she says
THANK YOU IN ADVANCE …
Before tasting the meatloaf.

Banning words only makes sense when they are words that have no redeeming quality … I’d name an example, but … I don’t like to use words like that. The above cited words, while some may be annoying (Baby Bump?), none are really so egregious that they need to be banned. Amazing? Really?

Thank you in advance for reading, I shall be awaiting your comments in my man cave (yes, like I have one of those …). I just occupy the basement. Oh … good one!

Department Store Santa (Redux)

22/12/2012

This story was originally posted before, re-edited, and posted it again … well, it’s Christmas again, and I’ve revisited the story and am reposting it here, and on my companion blog, as my Christmas gift to you all – as my thanks for reading throughout the year. There are some differences to the story, so if you’ve read it before you might want to give it another glance to see if you can catch the differences (or to see if I’m just pulling your leg … [I’m not ... I assure you ... there have been changes]).

The story was inspired by … nothing – this does not relate to any actual person; it was written, however, after seeing the results of an IED explosion which had killed some Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in 2007. After seeing the footage of the carnage I couldn’t help but think about the families, back here in Canada, and how they have to keep on living when a part of their family has been violently ripped from their lives on the other side of the world. The story’s dedication is at the end of the text.

I hope you enjoy the story. Have a Merry (Belated) Chanukah; a Joyous Christmas, and a Happy, Happy New Year (or don’t, I don’t care … really, I don’t … I’ve got my own issues … really, I do … honest).

Department Store Santa

Every year since he had turned fifty and his long beard had turned white he had worked as the department store Santa in one of the large shopping malls in the centre of town. Hundreds of children would come to sit on his lap every day in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but as the years passed by and he grew older the old man began to feel more than a small amount of resentment towards the ever growing commercialisation of Christmas. As much as he tried to hide those feelings of bitterness behind his bushy beard and smiling eyes they ultimately filtered down towards the children and their parents. Playing Santa used to be fun, now it was only a job. At the end of every day sitting on his “throne” it took every bit of restraint that he had to not rip the Santa suit off and just quit altogether.

Christmas wasn’t what it used to be, he thought to himself with a heavy sigh, as yet another child recited what was turning into yet another list of expensive computer games and electronic devices that they not only wanted but already knew they would be getting for Christmas; it was a familiar scene for Santa, seeing spoiled children who seemed to lack for nothing and for whom Christmas was a payday of sorts, the day they were rewarded for being good little boys and girls. It was even getting to the point, he sadly realized, where he was finding it increasingly difficult to smile for the photographs that his “elf” would take with the children while they sat on his lap; all he wanted to do was leave this shattered Yuletide fantasy of commercialised fraud and seek refuge with his wife, safe in their home where they had created a lifetime of memories of Christmas’ past. Living in the past had become something of an obsession of late, especially now as Christmas approached.

“Today’s your last day,” his wife had said as she gently squeezed his hand, earlier that day as he took a final sip of coffee before shrugging on his heavy winter coat. They had just finished breakfast in their comfortable breakfast nook and he was preparing to leave for work. The words had managed to cheer him up considerably as he left their house near the Canal and walked to the mall with an added bounce in his step. A faint smile crept over his face for the first time in a long while as he approached the employee’s entrance and made his way to the locker room. He kept thinking about the conversation that he and his wife had over breakfast about retiring completely; the more he thought about it the more he liked the idea. He had been able to retire early from his consulting job with the city and had taken on this job as Santa seventeen years ago just for fun, not at all expecting to do it for such a long time. He was certainly not doing it for the money. Of course, if he was perfectly honest with himself, and his wife, he would have admitted that his heart just was not into being around so many people anymore, especially children; not after what had happened to their son Kevin.

As he entered the locker room and put on his Santa suit for the last time this year, and perhaps for good, there was something a little different in his attitude; it seemed as though a weight had been removed, perhaps because the decision to retire was not an abstract anymore, it was coalescing into something he could really see as a distinct possibility. Before he closed the locker door he looked at the handwritten letter that was taped to the inside of his locker. There were only a handful of lines on the page, a total of 169 words if you included the final initial he had signed his name with; all written in haste just before Kevin went out on a mission. Even though he had memorized every word on the page and could recite them forward and backward, he read it once again, his eyes lingering on the swirl and swoops of his son’s neat handwriting.

Yes, he thought, he would definitely retire. After everything that had happened to their family this year there was no reason for him to have to put up with this crap anymore. Why should he? He had worked his entire adult life and had earned his retirement; why shouldn’t he take advantage of that time now and enjoy his winter months without having to pretend to be Santa Claus, the symbol of everything he hated about the commercialization of Christmas. Yes, this day would be different, he thought to himself; it would be the last day that he would ever have to wear this pathetic costume, and sit on a stupid throne while wisecracking teens laugh at him all day. Santa suits, he thought as he walked towards his “Kingdom” for the last time, should come with pockets so you could conceal water guns and other projectile toys.

Throughout the day and a stream of endless, anonymous children, all seeming to want the same mp3 playing robot that could do all kinds of cool, inane things … (he really was getting too old for this, he thought to himself, not for the first time this season), he still managed to keep smiling, reminding himself of the Christmas Eve dinner awaiting him at home that his wife would have been working on all day. He even remembered to laugh at the appropriate places for the children, to smile for the photos, and to give each of the little urchins one of the obligatory candy canes for having had the pleasure of screaming in his ear (it was no wonder he was nearly deaf in his left ear). Since this was Christmas Eve it was busier than usual in the mall, with last-minute shoppers desperate to find that elusive, perfect gift, which was no doubt made in China. This did not prevent the old man from letting his mind wander to what his wife would be doing at home.

His wife came from a family that celebrated Christmas, and Christmas Eve with what could only be described as uncommon gusto; the family was not particularly religious, but they were extremely enthusiastic. When it came to the Christmas Eve meal no expenses were spared: they usually made a roasted ham, a turkey with all the trimmings, potatoes of several varieties, salads enough to sink a ship and more than enough side dishes to feed dozens of people. It was a feast worthy of royalty, and it was a tradition that the family tried to continue, as much as possible.

Unlike other Christmas Eve dinners, this would be a meal only for the two of them; Kevin, their only son had been killed earlier in the year while serving with his unit in Afghanistan, but knowing his wife there would be more than enough food to feed a small army; or at least their son’s unit. This would be their first Christmas without him, without their Kevin, he thought to himself with a note of sadness as the last of the children was admitted through the gates to see Santa; his assistant pointed to the “closed” sign, signalling to him that the gates to “Santa’s Kingdom” were now locked for the season. Thank God, he thought to himself. The words of the letter crept into his mind and he heard them in the voice of his son Kevin, as though he was reading them instead of writing them from so far away.

“Hi Dad, I don’t have too much time to write; the unit’s deploying this afternoon and I only have time to wish you a Happy Birthday before our column leaves the base. Things have been boring as hell – sorry – heck lately. We had a scare the other night when a unit came under heavy fire after an IED blew up the lead vehicle in their column. Fortunately, nobody was killed – they were in a Buffalo – a great beast of a machine. I know telling you and Mom not to worry isn’t worth my time, but – don’t worry. Everybody here has each other’s back – we’re as safe as we can be. Hope Mom treats you well on your birthday! All my Love, Kevin. P.S. My orders came in yesterday! I’m scheduled to ship out in 10 weeks. I’ll be home in time to see you in your Santa suit for the first time. Baring any changes, I should be back in Petawawa by the third of September. Love you, K.”

The words echoed in his mind as the final child approached him. “Baring any changes …” oh, but there had been changes, hadn’t there? The column of armoured vehicles had left their forward operating base at 0500h and entered a mountain pass, to rendez-vous with a group of Afghani tribal representatives, but it had all been too easy. As they left the meeting site they came upon a bottleneck in the road and encountered an ambush: several insurgents with armed with both heavy machine guns and the dreaded Rocket Propelled Grenade, a holdover from Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union decades before. The first RPG hit the vehicle in front of Kevin’s, but even before he was able to leave his vehicle – not the much lauded Buffalo in this case – a second RPG turned his Light Armoured Reconnaissance Vehicle into a pressure cooker, killing all five of the soldiers inside instantly with the overpressure caused by the exploding grenade. Nine had died that day, the day the letter had been sent. Nine sons that would never see another Christmas, one of whom was his own precious Kevin.

As the boy approached there seemed to be something odd about him that immediately caught the old man’s attention. He was only about seven years old, but there was something about his eyes made him look much older, far more mature than his years. When he was close enough to speak, he said, in no uncertain terms, “look: we both know that I’m too old for this, right? I’m only here for my mother — it’s been a rough year for …” but he couldn’t continue as a tear began to roll down his freckled cheek.

“Come here, my boy,” the old man said, his voice kinder and gentler than it had been since the Chaplain had arrived with the news of his own son’s death, four months before. “What is it that you want for Christmas?”

The boy looked up at the old man and, seeing his own grief reflected back in his eyes, replied, “I want my father to come home from Afghanistan so we can be a real family again, but he already came back,” his voice cracked, “… in a coffin.” The boy buried his face in the deep plush of the Santa costume and he cried for several minutes while his mother came to get him, visibly embarrassed by the situation. But the old man didn’t mind the tears, for they were his as well, and those of his wife. They were tears that seemed to flow unceasingly, from eyes that saw ghosts in every corner of their house; they were tears that never seemed to run out, that never seemed to lose their sting.

When the boy stopped crying and his mother introduced herself to the old man he took her offered hand and asked, his voice thick with emotion, “would you and your lovely son do my wife and I the honour of joining us for dinner this evening? You see,” he continued, gently squeezing her hand, “this will be our first Christmas without our son as well. He was also killed in Afghanistan this past September,” these final words were barely whispered, but the mother and son had no difficulty hearing him speak.

All she could do was nod her head and do her best to smile, something she had not done very much of since the Chaplain had arrived at their house two months ago. As the three of them left the mall the old man was still dressed in his Santa Claus suit and for the first time in a long, long time he was feeling every bit the part. He wasn’t worried about leaving things in his locker at the mall, he knew he’d be back there at the beginning of the next Christmas Season, to once again sit on his throne amidst the magic kingdom of Santa Claus. After all, he thought to himself as he walked along the Canal with his new found friends, the spirit of Christmas was about finding love even if that was accompanied by a little bit of pain.

Dedicated to the Canadian Servicemen and women who have lost their lives in Afghanistan, and all other Peace Keeping Missions, and to their families; Merry Christmas. Peter Amsel, Ottawa.

Structural Ignorance (poem)

29/07/2012

Structural Ignorance may seem like a strange title for a poem, but … it is all about the implied meaning rather than anything else. This is a cross between a “stream of consciousness” piece and, in some parts and ways, a rant; perhaps it is an unconscious synthesis of the two. The most important thing is that it is for you, dear reader, it is not about the “how” it was written, but rather that it is here now and, hopefully, you will enjoy the writing. There is only one other thing that I’d like to mention before we get to the actual poem: when I refer to the increase of knowledge I’m referring to the increases from both scientific discoveries that seem to be made on a daily basis as well as scholastic advancements that are regularly brought to light, advancements that routinely challenge our “orthodox” thoughts on certain topics. There seems to be a wholesale rejection of science and, in many respects, of knowledge in general from certain portions of society these days (were I to name names I’d have to point out portions of the extreme conservative movement in the United States – particularly in the GOP – that openly challenge scientific facts in favour of conjecture, opinion, superstition, and old wives’ tales – anything but looking at something based on evidence and data that can be proven by reputable scientists). That is where the idea of the “Structural” portion of the title came from. Please enjoy, -p

Structural Ignorance

The sum of what we know
pales in comparison
to the incalculable number of things
we cannot begin to grasp

every passing moment
every breath we take
increaes the number of things learned
the number of things discovered

the mysteries unraveled
would make the minds of the greatest intellects
swoon at the prospect of exploring this
vast knowledge
untapped by many more
than those who use it

but is it a lack of curiosity,
of interest,
of ability?
that keeps so many minds
from exploring something
available to all,
or is it fear?

a fear of seeing the world
differently
of discovering that old beliefs
no longer hold true
that superstitions and
preconceptions need to be challenged
overthrown for
better explanations

or are these simply the minds of
lazy souls who have no interest in
broadening their horizons
especially if that means
doing something

(after all, to read requires effort but
to think requires more)

when it is so much easier
to be entertained,
a passive consumer of
instant gratification
broadcast directly into their homes on over
two-hundred High Definition
Digital channels …
or more,
depending on their package

(yes, the generation that grew up with the
Electronic Babysitter has graduated to an
all-out love affair with the latest incarnation of
the Beast in the Box …
and it’s waiting for you)
but none of that matters
in the end

so long as they have their
“reality” shows to keep them in touch
with what the real world is like
when the reality is
the more they watch
the less they know

as the Beast in the Box
devours their intellect
consumming their senses as it
irradiates their brain
leaving them a perfect subject for
indoctrination
for receiving the
official messages
sanctioned by those who
regulate the flow of information
streaming from the Box that
holds their attention so well

it isn’t a conspiracy
it’s just the way it is,
entertainment designed to keep the masses
satisfied with their lives
never realizing that “upward mobility” only exists
in the world seen in the Box or on the Screen
but rarely in real life

but the more people watch the Box
rejecting the knowledge available to them
the less they realize the peril they are in
for just as the blind cannot sense the shadows before them
only hoping not to trip on cracks or bumps
it is the shadows that must be feared
for they seek to overtake those who
in ignorance
show no fear

why should anyone care
or even consider these words
when the promise of the future seems so
dystopic?
(depending on what lens you look through)

in truth, it seems crazy
mad perhaps,
but consider poor Galileo and his battle
with the church
banning his discoveries
silencing his voice
for not agreeing with the Vatican

oh, but they did apologize …
four centuries later

feared by many
disdained by some
knowledge is held in contempt by others and
despised by a few
but in the end it is something we must face and
embrace

some contend it is the key
to understanding ourselves
while others argue
without knowledge
we are no better than the
animals we so admire
on the Box

continuing in ignorance will
only lead us to become
more like them

less enlightened
less evolved
less
human
as we allow
ignorance to prevail.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Peter Amsel (Aufzuleiden) License granted under Creative Commons Fair Use License.

Senseless Waste (poem)

23/07/2012

A new poem for your consideration – this was inspired by, of all things, a commercial on television. I hate commercials – most of the time I don’t even watch them – I fast forward through them … but, occasionally I find myself being assaulted by their senseless mutterings. More often than not, I mute the set – sometimes forgetting to turn the volume back up when the commercials end. No great loss. Please enjoy.

Senseless Waste

They appear with hypnotic regularity
interspersed amongst other ads for
various luxury items and
other choice pieces that
none of us need
or want
at least, we wouldn’t want them
were it not for these sleek productions
aimed at making us believe
this is the most important
cheap piece of shit made in China
that we can’t possibly live without …
after all,
how can anyone possibly resist
talking hammers (oh, they’ll have them, trust me) that
test sobriety (far fetched? really?
what about a backwards bathrobe?
Nothing is too stupid to be sold
so long as there’s someone willing to
place that call …
go ahead, pick up that phone and dial
1-800-No-Sense)
You’d have to be drunk to buy this crap
or the brilliant (and oh, so valuable)
memorial coins
such marvellous reproductions of
the Greatest American Coins
leaden slugs clad in
less gold than is in your mouth
(most fillings don’t use gold anymore …)
these worthless trinkets touted as
future heirlooms or the
answer to problems
we didn’t even realize we had
(especially erectile dysfunction
and yeast infections,
Good God, you’d think
every women on the Earth
had a yeast infection
but there’s a cream for that,
so don’t worry)
while all they really want
is your credit card number
and its expiration date
(in lieu of cash they’ll also take
your blood
directly from your veins …)
without consideration for the
actual cost
the long-term burden
as people become
slaves to plastic
slaves to the credit cards that were once
a convenience, a safety net
something to help
when times were tough
not to fill houses with
two for one offers sold by
hyperactive pitch-men, the
new Snake Oil Salesmen now
reaching a larger audience …
and just when you thought
the deluge was over
one final assault on the senses takes place
as the faces of nameless children
pleading for help with their eyes
appear on the screen
homeless and starving
diseased and dying
unless, of course, you give them your
credit card number and
expiration date
that will make it all
Go Away …
but it doesn’t
it doesn’t go away
they remain for the next running of the ad
for the next season’s campaign
for the next time they plead for money
oblivious to their fame
oblivious to the exploitation being done in their name
unable to do anything to stop them

but … contrary to the myriad voices
preaching doom at us
in the guise of news
in between their pathetic appeals for money
something can be done
even as we are assaulted by uninformative
noise
unfair, unable to balance on
one or two feet
often found firmly implanted in their mouths
as they gleefully promise
“the end is near”
as though it is an
accomplishment
of theirs
(and perhaps it is,
something they have organized a rally for perhaps)
but
something can be done
right now
something that won’t cost you
One Red Cent
(though it may help you
recover your senses)
all that has to be done is
turn them off:
shut them out
don’t let their voices reach your ears
change the channel or
turn off the box altogether
… after all,
TV is just a passing fad.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Peter Amsel Creative Commons Fair Use License

 

Imagine (poem)

13/07/2012

Here’s a new poem for your consideration. There isn’t really a need for much explanation here, at least, I hope there isn’t that much need for any … so long as you haven’t been living in a cave for the past 11 years, you probably won’t have any difficulties understanding the allusions that I’ve made in this poem. On the other hand, if you don’t understand it … it means one of two things: the poem is a failure or … you’ve been living in a cave for the past 11 years (and/or are hopelessly out of touch with the way things are transmitted by the 4th Estate … but, I could be wrong …).

Regardless, I do hope you enjoy – or appreciate – this short poem and, as always, I appreciate all (non-spam) comments and endeavour to respond to all – as well as checking out your websites (when you include them).

-p

Imagine

The cries echo in the streets
made dusty by the years of war
craters churning up dirt
depleted uranium shells
covering the landscape
burning through genetic connections
searing the DNA of children
foraging in the streets
begging for food from passing soldiers
found toys
made from discarded pieces of militaria
scattered amongst untold numbers of lost childhoods
countless lives destroyed
displaced if not completely reduced
from ashes on ashes
to dust permeating everything
dust in everything

intermingled generations left gasping for breath
as a nation is ground into the dust
bombed into the middle ages by a nation
far more advanced
better equipped
with unlimited funding,
or so it would seem
while many children
go to sleep at night
with empty stomachs …
in America
just like they do in
Afghanistan or
Somalia or
how many other places
around the world
so many of which are ignored by the press
by the government
with nothing to gain from helping them
we don’t even hear about their struggles
lest our consciences be pricked by such images
spurring us off our apathy by triggering
compassion for others
(even while bombs continue to fall a world away)
feelings for people we do not know
compassion flowing from hardened hearts
to save the lives of the innocent
while instead our leaders commit to spend
obscene amounts of money
on wars and rumours of war,
on maintaining their battle against terrorists
who are still playing
with toys in the dust.

Copyright (c) by Peter Amsel (Aufzuleiden). Creative Commons Fair Use License Applied.

Diversion (poem)

05/07/2012

Here’s something that came to me this morning … I hope you like it.

Diversion

The pain was quite real
tearing through the flesh
with talons fashioned from
stainless steel and
other elements
sharpened to an impossible edge
slicing through anything
unfortunate enough
to find its way
in front of the devouring blade

the pain
still real
as the flesh
is sliced open
but now
there is no blood

the blade moves
swiftly
with deliberate, decisive strokes
revealing inner truths …
nothing hidden from
prying eyes
as the pathologist
completes the autopsy.

© 2012 by Peter Amsel (Creative Commons Fair Use License)

Remember – (poem/rant)

04/07/2012

It has been quite some time since I last posted to Echoes of Solitude, and for those that have subscribed to this site, I apologize for letting you down … it was not my intention to depart from this blog for such a protracted period of time. Having said that, I would like to present you with a recent poem called Remember. This is not just a poem, it is a bit (well, more than a bit) of a rant – running the gamut of several of the things that are peeves of mine, from advertisements for “enhancement” products for men, as well as the pharmaceutical obsession with the male erection and their seeming lack of interest in taking on the realm of the antibiotics battle – a battle that we risk losing as things get progressively worse with MRSA and VRSA becoming more prevalent in hospital-based infections. Then there’s fracking, conspiracy theories, and – perhaps – the possibility of government run mind-control. The stuff of great conspiracies.

In many ways my writing has been a battle for a number of reasons, not the least of which has been the lack of the political expression that I have been willing to put into my written words – almost as if I were afraid of fully articulating my ideas. Perhaps I have been reluctant to fully embrace my background in poetic works as much as I could have, but I realize now that this has been a mistake, and I have to thank the readers of this blog and my poetry for helping me see this: your comments have been invaluable in allowing me to see that I should not hide my voice. Thank you; I hope you enjoy this poem. More shall be posted soon.

Remember

Walking through empty fields
you are distressed to find
no others at this intersection
suddenly appearing in the midst of nothingness
having wandered through days of regret, the
nights of empty passion
left scattered
by the wayside of forgetfulness, while
others find little comfort in the heat of their
sticky embrace
brought together by the carnal needs
long thought to be tamed … by
other means
(surely not when you can
increase the size of your erection, isn’t
that the most important thing?) to
make it last
oh, so much longer
… Sustain it, to
make every stroke count
because, after all,
the ability to get it up
trumps the fight against anything else that
may be trying to kill us -
who gives a damn if there are microbes, unseen
bugs we’ve trained
that are resistant to every damn thing in the arsenal
against the things we can’t see,
but which can kill us
just easily as you used to
spit into a glass across the table, the
things we used to do
for fun
when we weren’t concerned
about dying
when we weren’t concerned
about the ground beneath our feet
belching up flammable fuels
mixed up in our drinking water
when we weren’t concerned
with words like “fracking” and
“hijacking” – when a conspiracy was
a few guys in a back room
with a weather balloon, with
little green men dressed up
in Air Force Uniforms …
But times have changed, indeed
they have
remember how they used to
inject us in grade school, sometimes
during recess, but always
before we left for the day …?
Neither had I, but
that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen
it only means the injections
suppressed my memories, just
like they wanted … if only
I could remember … if only
I could remember ….

Copyright © 2012 by Peter Amsel (Aufzuleiden) Creative Commons Exceptions for Fair Use

No, what’s YOUR problem?

17/06/2010

Stigma by the Numbers
People with mental illnesses face many battles as they try to cope with the various illnesses trying to take over their lives, not the least of these is the stigma of having to live with something that they have absolutely no control over. Think about how unfair it is to be judged for something that you have nothing to do with: it’s like being called a bad person by virtue of your skin colour or your sex. While we obviously try to not tolerate these prejudices in an ‘enlightened’ society, they nevertheless continue to take place every day. People with mental illnesses face the harsh judgements of people who have medieval understandings of the realities of the illnesses and their treatments.

We see this lack of knowledge when we hear people speak so carelessly about mental illness: how someone is ‘depressed’ because their team lost, or someone has a ‘split-personality’ and must be schizophrenic. What they don’t realize is that true depression is a serious illness that can, if left untreated, lead to death, and that schizophrenia has absolutely nothing to do with ‘split personalities’; that is a myth perpetuated by bad movies and an ill-informed media.How Misunderstood Mental Illness is in America

When dealing with issues such as suicidal ideation or serious suicidal states it must be made clear that these acts are not done merely to attract the attention of others. When someone only wants the attention of others they will ‘grandstand’, declaring their intentions in such a way as to attract that attention, usually before an actual or serious attempt is made. However, an attempt at suicide, regardless of whether it fails or not, is a call for help that should never be ignored.

Stigma can only be defeated when we answer ignorance with reason, demonstrating that people with mental illnesses have as much to contribute to society as anyone else.

Adventures in Recovery

14/06/2010

Living with Bipolar Disorder is an ongoing challenge that I have been facing for the past twenty years. The constant mood swings make day to day activities arduous tasks, all for the simple reason that I can never know from one day to the next what my mood will be like at any given time, making advanced planning an exercise in frustration.

Thanks to the care of a very dedicated physician and a team of health care professionals I have learned many strategies for coping with this disease, and a cocktail of medications has also helped to bring my symptoms under control, but the cycling from hypo-mania, agitation, and depression still continues with annoying regularity.

A few years ago I discovered a new form of therapy, an additional treatment protocol to be added to my existing recovery plan that consisted of medications, relaxation exercises, regular appointments with my doctor, and maintaining a healthy diet. This new protocol was simply named Dr Seuss.

Now, before you get the idea that I’m immersing myself in the fantastic stories of Theodore ‘Dr Seuss’ Geisel, that’s not the case at all, though that might not be such a bad idea. No, Dr Seuss is my cat, and my therapist. Even as I write this, on paper (my laptop having been temporarily shunned so that he may have full access to my lap) his loaf-like form is stretched out upon me.

My cat therapist, Dr Seuss. Truly, the sweetest thing.

All curled up, he has no idea how much his presence in my life serves as a balm to a troubled spirit; as his unconditional love, supplemented by cat cookies, regular feedings and cleanings of his litter box, go a long way in keeping the darkest moments to a minimum and allowing the light to shine once again.

While there are different therapeutic routes available to someone living with an affective disorder, including medication, CBT, and psychiatric rehabilitation, there is one form of therapy that has recently become part of my recovery plan that has had greater benefits than any other: cat therapy. My cat, Dr Seuss, has become an integral part of my recovery process in ways that I could not have imagined when I first brought him home from the pet store almost three years ago. While I may have provided him a home he has provided me with more than he can ever know.

My recovery began ten years ago when I was diagnosed with the illness I had been living with for over fifteen years; an illness that still causes annoying disruptions to a life that sometimes seems more out of control than in. A combination of medications and regular appointments with my doctor has helped as recovery strategies. I also participated in psycho-education programs for several years, learning to recognize symptoms and learn about goal setting and other coping mechanisms for dealing with mental illness, but none of that has been able to compare with the therapy provided by Dr Seuss.

When I spend even a few short moments in the presence of Dr Seuss, a cat with a gentle spirit unlike any that I have ever encountered in any cat that I’ve ever seen before, I experience a sense of calm and joy that supplants all other emotions. It is impossible for me to feel bad when I am with Dr Seuss, he destroys negative emotions the same way the sun melts ice. If I feel depressed and pet him the dark feelings seem to melt away, flowing out of my hand, sliding off of his slick black and white fur.

Seuss reclining - his favourite pose


There is something transcendent about being in the presence of this gentle creature; even after the worst of days it only takes a few minutes in his presence and I can feel myself calm down in a way that would not have been possible without the use of medications. What is really significant about this ‘pet therapy’ is the way Dr Seuss gets me to stop looking internally all the time. Rather than focusing on my own emotional state I have to make sure that I’m taking care of his needs as well, something that requires me to look externally. Some days it would be very easy to stay home and hide from the world, but if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to go to the pet store and get the necessary supplies that I need for my little friend.

By taking care of a creature that only wants to return my love with love (when he isn’t engaged in his favourite activity, that being sleeping) it becomes possible to see that there are things in life that are more important than the universe centering around the ‘me, myself, and I’. Of course, some may not be ready for such drastic ideas, those being the ones for whom the self is too much to let go of and for whom suffering has become a profession, but that need not concern me for now. Thanks to the help of my little doctor, and the continued work that I’m doing with my other doctor, coping with bipolar disorder has become something that I can see myself living with, something I couldn’t say so easily ten years ago.

Poems for your Consideration

21/04/2010

An interesting thing happened on the way to May, 2010 … I ran across a blog by poet Robert Lee Brewer called ‘Poetic Asides‘. The interesting thing about the site that caught my attention was the challenge: a ‘Poem a Day’ challenge for the month of April. Now, the idea of writing certainly does not scare me, but I wondered if it would be feasible to commit to something so structured … of course, I’m not being graded, so it’s not like somebody is going to rap my knuckles with a ruler if I don’t hand my assignments in on time … right? Hello? Anyone? Seriously, it has turned out to be a lot of fun, very challenging, and artistically quite satisfying. On a few occasions I’ve completed the ‘assignments’ on the next day, but I have managed to finish each of the daily ‘prompts’, which brings me to how this whole thing works.

Every morning Robert Lee Brewer posts a new ‘prompt’, and we – the participating poets – take that prompt and use it to write our poem for the day. A prompt can be anything from a suggestion for a topic to a title, such as ‘The Last (blank)’ – fill in the blank and use that as the title of your poem (prompt from April 11).

So, what I wanted to do was post some of the poems here. On a few days I wrote some ‘off prompt’ poems as well, but when the poem is based on the prompt that will be provided above the title. I hope you enjoy these offerings. Thank you for reading.

From April 2

Gently Weeps

Watching as they coax the sounds
from six strings and pieces of wood
slapped together with some care
these troubadours pour fourth their souls
emptying the contents of their hearts
accompanied by a driving beat
or a simple snare
it all comes down to what the song needs
nothing more, nothing less
as the chords ring through the night
echoing off the bodies in the darkness
I decide to pick up my guitar and
join in the celebration of sound.

______________________________

April 3

Prompt: “Partly [blank]” as title

Partly Conscious

My eyes were open,
at least, I thought they were …
it’s hard to tell when in a dream
if one is really where they might imagine
or if you are merely floating,
freely falling through a universe
created by your own mind
the fruit of your own inner creativity
turned in unto itself
reflecting your deepest,
darkest desires,
spoken or not
they are there
waiting to be captured in the night.

______________________________

April 6

Prompt: exphrastic poem based on ‘Flight of the Witches’ by Francisco de Goya

Prompt for 'Coven' by Peter Amsel

Flight of the Witches by Francisco de Goya

Coven

I avert my gaze
cowering under my veil
not wanting to see
the terrible things
taking place
within reach of my hand …
the Lord alone
is my refuge
from the evil spirits
arrayed against me
from these witches
conjuring up their spells
as they take control
of the elements around them
even the air obeys them
lifting them off the ground
like perverse dervishes
locked in the midst of their
hypnotic whirls
having no need of spinning wildly
to take flight

I can hear them dangling above me
as they continue their chanting and
droning, carrying their hapless victim
away from prying eyes.

______________________________

April 7

Prompt: ‘Until ____’ – fill in the blank and use as the title of the poem (Until the end of time, until the world stops, etcetera ad nauseum).

Until the End of the World

Yesterday’s visions come to the quick realization
that tomorrow will not be as bad as the prognostications
or the delusional ravings
shouted from every soapbox and rooftop that would
bear their weight
in hopes they would get out their message
before you pass them by
but it was all in vain
nobody wanted to listen
nobody wanted to hear that their way of life was
coming to an end
(failure is not an option
but it happens
with some regularity)
their signs go unread
their leaflets tossed aside as
unwanted detritus
filling the gutters with
hysterical warnings that would make
Chicken Little blush
wild claims that make the children cry
as harried mothers hurry them past
trying to ignore the shrill cries of these
sidewalk evangelists
desperately seeking to catch your eye
“do you know the Lord”
they ask as you pass
“I do”
my reply is calm and measured
the opposite of their current state
the look in their eye tells me
they don’t really believe me
but he says “Amen” and
turns away
looking for another soul to save
he has obviously left me to face
the end of the world
on my own
______________________________

April 10

This one was a real challenge: the prompt was to write a horror poem. Robert made a comment, most likely offhanded, that – perhaps – that we might just have the ‘next Raven’ out of the batch. Well, the problem began when I went and revisited Poe’s epic masterpiece and was, in a word, underwhelmed. I’m sorry – this probably makes me some sort of poetic heretic … but … ‘quoth the Raven nevermore’ does absolutely nothing for me. Of course, I’ve read many things that others have raved about that I found to be tediously wrought works of self-indulgent … well, never mind. Let’s just say I’ve never had aspirations of becoming a literary critic.

Prompt: Write a horror poem.

With Darkness Falling

The blowing wind could not dispel
the discomfort of that cold dark night
even as the howling fiends
danced around the cooling embers
of the extinguished fires

those devilish ghouls
sang their songs to the accompaniment of the winds
crying dolefully through the night with
the groaning of the trees
bending to the pressure of their unseen mates

while these maniacal dancing spirits
staked their claim for your vulnerable souls
the cold began to permeate your flesh
biting into your bones as you stood your ground
fighting off their advances with every breath

but it was not enough
not enough to stop the darkness
not enough to stop the cold
not enough to stop the pain
as it reached across the pit of the night

as the cold permeates beyond the marrow of your bones
chilling you to the depths of your essence
you finally succumb to the encroaching misery
your life force ebbing away
as an orgy of death overtakes you
pulling you into its welcoming embrace.

______________________________

April 11

Prompt: “The Last ____” fill in the blank and make that the title of the poem.

The Last Crusade

the army was assembled
just outside the Holy City
with weapons in hand
their thirst for blood was
overpowering them
these ‘warriors of God’
raised their hands to the heavens
invoking the name of their Lord
to bless what they were about to do
‘hear our cry, oh Lord,’ they called,
‘help us deliver your enemies into Your hands,’
their lust could not be contained
as they surged forward towards their goal
oblivious to the sound as the ground before them opened
enveloping them in a twisting mass of arms and legs
as they were delivered into the hands
of the Lord.

______________________________

April 18

Prompt: take the phrase ‘to ____’, fill in the blank or make a phrase, and write the poem – the phrase, etc. becomes the title.

To be

It has become
more
than an existential
statement
of being
‘whether ‘tis nobler’
or some such other
phrases
cobbled together
in some magnificent
collection
of words
long forgotten
by miscreants
who can’t be bothered
to study
the classics

_____________________________

April 19

Prompt:

write a poem about somebody; be sure to include their name in the title of the poem.

Ratzinger BXVI

How much did he know
they ask
knowing any answer will only arouse
more questions
more debate
more anger
knowing that he knew things
long before anyone could have expected
these paragons of virtue
to have swept the ‘sins of the father’
so easily under the skirts
of the marbled statues
in the Vatican sanctuary

______________________________

April 21

Prompt: Take the phrase ‘According to ____’, replacing the blank with a word or phrase, and make that the title of the poem.

According to the Many

I’m often told there is
nothing that can be done
to change the madness
we call our world
but every so often
I look around and see
small reasons for optimism
emerging out of the seemingly
endless abyss of psychosis
spewing from the lips of the
talking heads that have
enslaved so many of those we know …
but every now and then
there is a glimmer of hope as the
shackles of the mesmerizing messengers
are shrugged off
(if only for a few moments)
allowing independent thought
to take place
once again

______________________________

Well, that’s all for now … as I said, I’m not posting everything from the PAD challenge, just a selection of what has been written. More will be posted over the next few days as the challenge continues. Comments are always welcome and encouraged. Thanks again for reading.

Three Poems

13/01/2009

These are three poems that were written recently, the last of which is is somewhat inspired by the recent events in the Gaza strip. The title of that poem, Sh’ma Yisrael, is taken from the scripture where the word invokes, “Hear, Oh Israel, …”. In this case it is my hope that they might just hear the voices of the people around the world calling their murderous actions and attempts at genocide something entirely unacceptable.

Please, enjoy the poems.

Earthly Dreams

Beneath the stars the earth reveals itself
a celestial jewel afloat in unending tranquillity
but this veneer of peace is easily shattered
as one approaches the jewel with many
of its inhabitants firmly entrenched
in a battle for survival
oblivious to the beauty around them
for it does nothing to fill their bellies
or ease their pain during the long nights.

Long nights filled only with the solace
provided by the distant stars
mute points of light that hold the promise of
so many unrealized dreams.
To soar amongst these stars
to be freed from the constraints of this
earthly prison and commune with the
Light of the heavens – rising above all cares
but the dreams are short lived for most
as the realities of this life
the brutalities of this life
pull them back
ripping them from the serenity of orbit
thrusting them back into the cruel reality
of life on earth.

The only ones capable of evading the clutches
of this cruel reality
rely upon their strength of will alone
to deny victory to the encroaching madness that comes
when all dreams are lost.

With visions preserved these select few
look to the stars
they look to the heavens
seeing something more than
distant points of light in an
unending expanse of shadow, of darkness;
they see instead their own futures
their past and their ultimate destiny:
from the cosmic dust it all began
coalescing into the swirling nebulae that
gave birth to the singular jewel upon which
all life runs its course.

Until they ultimately return to the dust
from whence they came.

Copyright © 2009 by Peter Amsel (aufzuleiden)

… of speech

They come in the dark night, or brazenly, during the day:
looking for anything that
piques their interest — “why are they there”,
you ask — but are told, in no uncertain terms, that this …
this is not your concern:
They have been “authorized” to search …
they have been empowered by the law;
empowered to violate
to trample upon
stamp on
shred and burn
your rights
no consolation for you as you are hauled away,
still questioning, “what are the charges”,
“what evidence have you found” …
“can I call a lawyer?” ….

Warrants have been signed by judges doing favours for
prosecutors, none wanting to be the one to
let some evil “terrorist threat” run free.
There won’t be a 9/11 redux on their watch
even if some innocent lives
must be ruined
destroyed in the process
all for the “greater good”.

Their quest for evidence leaves no stone unturned
as they reach back into the distant past of
your life — family and friends interviewed
while you sit, alone and afraid
surrounded by cinderblocks and iron-bars
a thin mattress and blanket your only means of comfort
as you await your destiny
half-believing that “justice” will remove its
blindfold and see that you are innocent
that this is all a mistake — a nightmare from which
you will awaken when the cleansing
light of day burns away the shadows of deceit.

But the rising of the sun does not bring your freedom
nor does it restore your faith in the “justice” system:
evidence was found during the search,
you are told …
things you wrote:
things you posted on the Internet
comments on different blogs and forums
discussions about politics and
war crimes.
Comments about a presidency more concerned
with image than with serving the people
or protecting the Constitution.

Without another word, a phone call or a lawyer you
find yourself labelled an “enemy of the state”,
a “person of interest”, and a possible
terrorist;
stripped of your rights,
your birth rights.

You are sent to where you will await the trial
that may never come
one prisoner amongst many in a place
far removed from America’s heartland
the antithesis of justice and freedom,
promised to be dismantled one day soon.
Until then you remain a prisoner
in Gitmo …
but January 20th is coming!

Copyright © 2009 by Peter Amsel (aufzuleiden)

Sh’ma Yisrael

The eyes of the of the world watch you intently
as your tanks array themselves
with their magazines fully stocked
loaded with the finest made munitions
artillery shells destined to
slice through the bodies of old women and
children
of mothers and daughters
of fathers and sons
of corpses, their eyes still open
their hearts still beating in the desperate
struggle that never ends …
the struggle known by many names,
in many languages
but united by a common spirit:
overcome the oppressors,
overthrow the Pharaohs,
free the slaves, …
Let my people go!

Who are “my” people; “my” brother,
that I may keep them?

When we watch, as one might watch
the latest blockbuster from Hollywood,
seeing bunker-busting bombs
shredding human flesh in
high-definition colour
as you kill with such relish
some questions are inevitable
(aside from the obsession we have for
watching such horrors … and managing to remain silent):
why can’t you find a way to
live together in peace?

If the world is honest than it knows that
both sides are guilty;
judgement is lacking as
stones met with bullets and bombs
have led to rockets that cannot be aimed
met with tanks and precision guided munitions
dropped from the talons of the fighting falcons.

The world watches, united in shock and outrage
but in New York
in the chamber where the “Security Council”
discusses such heady matters as ethnic cleansing
genocide and plain old wars
nothing is decided.

They cannot agree to condemn the violence,
they cannot bring themselves to demand
that you stop murdering innocent children
in the name of “security”.

Pity the nation that cannot exist without a small
episode of genocide every now and then …
we all have them … had them …
why should you, Oh Israel,
be any different? you ask,
why indeed?

Perhaps it is not about fitting in with the
rest of the world that should be of concern –
perhaps you should be more concerned with the
blood staining your garments
blood that will not wash away
or be hidden in the glaring light of the cameras
aiming their dispassionate eyes at you from
around the world
blood that leaves stains on top of stains
from generations of insanity
generations of people unwilling to live
side by side
instead, they fight …
the blood flows
and the eyes of the world
continue to watch.

Copyright © 2009 by Peter Amsel (aufzuleiden)

Dedicated to the innocent victims of the ongoing war insanity: the conflict in Israel/Palestine. Until both sides realize that they can not win anything with violence the only thing that will continue to grow in that pitiful land is the body count as more children are added to the death-toll. Lay down your weapons and return to your families; create things with your hands, things of wonder and beauty, not of death and destruction. Peace begins in the heart.

Picture This

26/12/2008

One of the things that happens around this time of year, for many people (myself included), is that there is a strong sense of longing for the warmer days of spring and summer. Considering that we had our “Christmas” dinner today, on Boxing Day, with all of the fixings (and the corresponding mess that goes along with a meal that takes nearly ten hours to prepare) it isn’t surprising that by the end of the day I found myself longing for the simpler days of summer (and, perhaps, a lighter meal … like a salad … with some leftover turkey).

These feelings led me to peruse through some of my photos and I thought it might be a good opportunity to share some of my photos in the Echoes of Silence. Aside from the flowers there are two cats that I want you to see as well: the black and white one is named Dr Seuss (yes, really; although he does not really answer to it … we call him several things including Seussie, Seussman, Seusselah, and, one of my all time favourites, “Little Shit” … but that is another story). The other cat belongs to my former room-mate and is named Jackson. She could well be called a number of things … none of which are polite. Ironically, Jackson is very photogenic … just don’t get too close with the camera.

Enjoy the pictures,

Wie viel ist aufzuleiden!

Truly the sweetest cat I've ever had.

Truly the sweetest cat I've ever had.

a study in staring

Cat's Eye: a study in staring

Fire Tulip, 2008, in Ottawa, Canada.

Fire Tulip, 2008, in Ottawa, Canada.

Hot Poppy, 2007, in Ottawa, Canada

Hot Poppy, 2007, in Ottawa, Canada

Department Store Santa

24/12/2008

Every year since he had turned fifty, and his long beard had turned white, he had worked as the department store Santa in one of the large shopping malls in the centre of town. Hundreds of children would come to sit on his lap every day in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but as the years passed by and he grew older the old man began to feel more than a small amount of resentment towards the ever growing commercialisation of Christmas. As much as he tried to hide those feelings of bitterness behind his bushy beard and smiling eyes they ultimately filtered down towards the children and their parents. Playing Santa used to be fun, now it was only a job.

Christmas wasn’t what it used to be, he thought to himself with a heavy sigh, as yet another child recited yet another list of expensive computer games and electronic devices that they not only wanted but already knew they would be getting for Christmas. It was even getting to the point, he sadly realized, where he was finding it increasingly difficult to smile for the photographs that his “elf” would take with the children while they sat on his lap; all he wanted to do was leave this shattered Yuletide fantasy of commercialised fraud and seek refuge with his wife, safe in their home where they had created a lifetime of memories of Christmas’ past. Living in the past had become something of an obsession of late, especially now as Christmas approached.

“Today’s your last day,” his wife had said as she gently squeezed his hand. They had just finished breakfast in their comfortable breakfast nook and he was preparing to leave for work. The words had managed to cheer him up considerably as he left their house near the Canal and walked to the mall with an added bounce to his step. A faint smile crept over his face for the first time in a long while as he approached the employee’s entrance and made his way to the locker room. He kept thinking about the conversation that he had with his wife over breakfast about retiring completely and the more he thought about it the more he liked the idea. He had been able to retire early from his consulting job and had taken on this job as Santa seventeen years ago just for fun, not at all expecting to do it for such a long time. Of course, if he was perfectly honest with himself, and his wife, he would have admitted that his heart just was not into being around so many people anymore, not after what had happened to their son Kevin.

As he entered the locker room and put on his Santa suit for the last time this year, and perhaps for good, there was something a little different in his attitude; it seemed as though a weight had been removed, perhaps because he had decided to retire. This day, he thought, would be different, if only for the fact that it was the last day that he would ever have to wear this pathetic costume and sit in the stupid throne while wisecracking teens laugh at you all day. Santa suits, he thought as he walked towards his “Kingdom” for the last time, should come with pockets where you could conceal water guns and other projectile toys.

Throughout the day and the endless, anonymous children, all seeming to want the same mp3 playing robot that could do all kinds of cool things … (he really was getting too old for this, he thought to himself, not for the first time this season), he still managed to keep smiling, reminding himself of the Christmas Eve dinner awaiting him at home that his wife would have been working on all day; and he remembered to laugh at the appropriate places for the children, to smile for the photos and to give each of the little urchins one of the obligatory candy canes for having had the pleasure of screaming in his ear (no wonder he was nearly deaf in his left ear). Since this was Christmas Eve it was busier than usual with last-minute shoppers desperate to find that elusive, perfect gift. This did not prevent the old man from letting his mind wander to what his wife would be doing at home.

His wife came from a family that celebrated Christmas Eve with what could only be described as gusto; the family was not particularly religious, they were just enthusiastic. When it came to the meal no expense was spared: they made a roasted ham, a turkey with all the trimmings, potatoes of several varieties, salads enough to sink a ship and more than enough side dishes to feed dozens of people. It was a feast worthy of royalty, and it was a tradition that the family tried to continue, as much as possible.

Unlike other Christmas Eve dinners, this would be a meal only for the two of them; their only son had been killed earlier in the year while serving with his unit in Afghanistan, but knowing his wife there would be more than enough food for a small army; or at least a battalion. This would be their first Christmas without their son, without their Kevin, he thought to himself with a note of sadness as the last of the children was admitted through the gates to see Santa; his assistant pointed to the “closed” sign, signalling to him that the gates to “Santa’s Kingdom” were now locked for the season. Thank God, he thought to himself.

As the boy approached there seemed to be something odd about him that immediately caught the old man’s attention. He was only about seven years old, but there was something about his eyes made him look much older, far more mature than his years. When he was close enough to speak, he said, in no uncertain terms, “look: we both know that I’m too old for this, right? I’m only here for my mother — it’s been a rough year for …” but he couldn’t continue as a tear began to roll down his freckled cheek.

“Come here, my boy,” the old man said, his voice kinder and gentler than it had been since the Chaplain had arrived with the news of his own son’s death, four months before. “What is it that you want for Christmas?”

The boy looked up at the old man and, seeing his own grief reflected back in his eyes, replied, “I want my father to come home from Afghanistan so we can be a real family again, but he already came back,” his voice cracked, “… in a coffin.” The boy buried his face in the deep plush of the Santa costume and he cried for several minutes while his mother came to get him, visibly embarrassed by the situation. But the old man didn’t mind the tears, for they were his as well, and those of his wife. They were tears that seemed to flow unceasingly, from eyes that saw ghosts in every corner of their house; they were tears that never seemed to run out, that never seemed to lose their sting.

When the boy stopped crying and his mother introduced herself to the old man he took her offered hand and asked, his voice thick with emotion, “would you and your lovely son do my wife and I the honour of joining us for dinner this evening? You see,” he continued, gently squeezing her hand, “this will be our first Christmas without our son as well. He was also killed in Afghanistan,” these final words were barely whispered, but the mother and son had no difficulty hearing them.

All she could do was nod her head and do her best to smile, something she had not done very much of since the Chaplain had arrived at their house two months ago. As the three of them left the mall the old man was still dressed in his Santa Claus suit and for the first time in a long, long time he was feeling every bit the part.


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