Casualties of War

This poem is one of my favorites, although it’s not a popular one that I know of.  But I like it because it came to me at a time when I could not tell who was there to hurt me and who was there to help.  I was having my own personal Civil War on many levels when someone actually did ask me, “Who do you think I am?”

The question wasn’t meant to be philosophical, as far as I know, but it got me thinking, especially because I was in such a precarious emotional state.  When we don’t know who a person really is and we are in bad shape ourselves, we tend to believe the other person is someone not to be trusted.  And worse, if that person reminds us of someone who in the past did us harm, we start to confuse friend with enemy all too easily.  We are suspicious of their motives, and so in return, they are suspicious of ours, and before we know it, we are at war.

Casualties of War

“Character is like a tree, and reputation its shadow.  The shadow is what we think it is; the tree is the real thing.” –Abraham Lincoln

In the conservative shadow of trees
and beyond the camp boundaries,

from behind your own masked
war, I still hear you ask,

“Who do you think I am?”
And I, as carefully as I can,

squint through the settling evening
clouded with fear and what we believe in,

try to examine your uniform, your look—suppressed,
stonewalled, expressionless.  I am abscessed,

wounded by thought, needing rest,
blinded from trails of endless

gray, from this march, a ceaseless succession
of ignorance, from the fatigue of guessing–

and you, a stranger who asks but will not tell,
fall victim to my private hell:

your question taunts each battle injury,
and I mistake you for my enemy.


Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt

Draft 5, June 10, 2009



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