Imagine (poem)


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).



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)


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


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
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)


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.


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?


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


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


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


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


April 19


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


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
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
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


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


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.



Echoes of Solitude, my newest creative experiment. This is my early Christmas present to myself (and to all those who come by to read) and, in a way, the fulfillment of a New Year’s resolution that I didn’t make last year, but was planning on making this year, that being to contribute to my blog more consistently. This blog is not going to replace The Inner Voice of the CrazyComposer, but will instead be a complimentary site to it, providing me a venue for the other things that I have been doing which are not usually appropriate for posting on a site that has become much more focused on political issues.

For those of you that may be wondering about the address of this page, “aufzuleiden” is a German word and is from a quotation by a famous poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. “Wie viel ist aufzuleiden” translates to, roughly, “how much suffering there is to go (or get) through”. I will write about this at a later time.

Enjoy the Echoes of Solitude ….