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author’s note:

Today, in the U.S., we honor our military veterans.

I say: we’re all veterans, of one type or another.
 

EMPATHY FOR THREE

One night while standing in line
I heard a man behind me say
with a sneer:

he’s fallen again

and felt a surge of empathy
for someone I did not know

but I knew his pain—
you see, I’ve fallen too

a few times
or maybe more
than a few

and like that guy
been criticized
while still down

if not by someone else
then by myself—
yeah, I can be quite critical of me.

So I think I know something
about that critical man in line—
I believe his sneer belies
anger at some part of himself
he deems weak.

The pain behind his anger
is pain I know, so now
I also feel empathy for him.

Maybe my empathy
is merely self-pity
projected outwards.

But if so, that’s okay
because

when I see myself
in those two mirrors
I want to help them both

and when I want to help them both
I want to help all three of us

and when I want help the three of us
I want to help the whole damn world.
 

© 2018, Michael R. Patton
40 New Fables: ebook

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author’s note:

Around every Fourth of July, I revisit this poem.

Full disclosure: I’m not always able to live up to these words.
 

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

I’ll be damn if I’ll be terrorized
by anyone

including me—

I have looked into the mirror
and seen how mean I’ve been
to myself.

If I can face that monster
why should I cower
before those who lack
the courage to look
into their own reflections?

When they bombard me
my legs may tremble
but I won’t jump—
no, I’ll pirouette in triumph:
my dance will be my revenge!

Though they curse me to hell
I won’t curse them—
after all
I know the wounds
of their hellacious suffering.

On the other hand
I can’t sincerely bless them to heaven:

I haven’t yet healed myself
to that degree of empathy.

However
I have stopped
and stopped
and stopped
my monster from mirroring
their vitriolic violence

and maybe that’s blessing enough.
 

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
my war for peace: a poetry book

armadillo woods bbb - July 10, 2016sc

author’s note:

Another poem with a mirror in it.
 

ARMADILLO MIRROR

Though I constantly struggle to see…

I often miss the obvious
until a lightning bolt
from some personal god
shocks me awake—

as when
on a half-moon night
(while once again lamenting
 my meager accomplishment)
I happened upon
an armadillo on the lawn

and suddenly—without thought
saw myself in a mirror:
that little armored grubber
—an irrepressible spirit—
trundling along on its bitty legs:
a dwarf clawing for its survival
through many dark ages.

Such resolve, such strength!

But before my pride
could rise too high
I was struck again
by an inner knowing
I’d tried so hard to ignore:

the shell that protects
also limits…

I must evolve
out of the dark.

As I am, so we are.
 


© 2016, Michael R. Patton
SURVIVAL: a book

bird chick - August 27, 2015s

author’s note:

In memory of Rita Patton, 1932-2015.
 

GHOST BIRD

Long ago, a young girl
found a bird chick
opening its beak
to the sky in a silent plea

but though she tried so hard
the cup of her loving hands
could not save the bird

and yet
from that teary frustration
she was blessed

as she became aware
of an opening stretching down
toward the center of her chest:

whenever she saw anyone
crying that same silent plea
she could feel the pain
as the opening tore
just a little bit more…

just that much more

—relentlessly—

until finally, by instinct
she began to look away
from such everyday sights—

she ignored the silent pleas
she ignored the ghost bird
she ignored the pain.

But she did not live free
because spirits shadow us
even when we forget
and ever so often
they shock us—
awake

just as the ghost bird surprised her
one bright morning

when she looked up
to find in the mirror
an echo of its silent plea
in her own desperate face—

a face she realized
she had secretly seen
in the many faces
she’d tried to ignore

and once again
she could feel the opening
tearing down into
the center of her chest

but deeper now, much deeper:

she then realized
she’d secretly witnessed
that same opening
in all those hearts
she had tried to ignore—

she realized
that even when hearts
live in the dark
they continue to stretch—
to open

just as her own heart
had silently deepened down
through years and years
of false darkness.
 

© 2015, Michael R. Patton
Listening to Silence: the book

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