Tag Archives: poetry

The Derision of Empathy. By Heidi Stephenson.

“Old English softe; yielding, gentle, mild, agreeable.”

I have a soft spot for animals;
I am soft on my nonhuman kin.
As soft as a baby’s bottom.
A typical example of the softer sex:
Accused of being “oversoft;”
Soft-boiled; soft-hearted;
A soft job, soft target –
For a sob story.
“Sentimental,” “weak” and “foolish”…
A “big girl’s blouse;”
With a lack of “grip” on “reality.”

I am deficient in hardness;
My upper lip’s not that stiff.
I don’t have a “stomach” for violence.
I am considered by many to be “soft in the head;”
Someone who gives soft answers –
When tough is the standard, the norm.
When the buck is supposed to stop with Bambi;
When the Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddle Duck ‘phase,’
Is meant to end abruptly,
With a rabbit stew;
A Pepper Pig pot-roast.
With old friends drowning –
In gravy and plum sauce:
The stuff of bedtime nightmares.

But there’s no soft-soaping me.
There’s no soft-pedalling;
To persuade me to turn a blind eye;
To deaden my ears to the screaming.
I can’t be soft on oppression, on cruelty.
I can’t be soft on suffering, neglect.
I am not projecting, imagining;
I am not “anthropomorphizing.”
I can see with my own, un-blinkered eyes.
I recognize pain when I hear it.
I smell the fear in excrement and blood.

And I don’t want a “taste” of your “real world”.
I have seen behind closed doors;
Where a Blue Beard horror plays out daily.
And I am not “over the top,”
Because I lack testosterone,
Or a killer’s ‘instinct’ –
Because I view silence as complicity.
And Aristotle’s ‘Great’ Chain,
As a self-serving fantasy;
Preaching man’s ‘superiority,’
Without conscience or impunity:
Making a virtue of enslavement.

“No pain, no gain,” you say;
But I won’t numb out on your ‘necessity’ myths.
There is a common beingness,
That modern time forgot,
But sorely needs to remember.
The Golden rule of a bygone Age:
To “Do – as you would be done by.”
To live and let live,
To harm none.
There’s an idea in that idealism,
That’s not “infantile” at all:
And it’s not one I want to “grow out of.”

Away with your exploitative, soft money!
If there’s to be a future,
Violence won’t be a soft option.


The Shooter.

What do you see when you shoot?

Do you see a mother who starved herself,
For her hatchlings, in the spring?
Waiting for the buds and catkins to ripen,
While she pecked dutifully,
For insects, for her nursery?

Do you see a fighter?
A grouse born from a lone-surviving egg,
Pale, yellow and fragile,
That the teenage boys had failed to smash,
In their wantonness towards the clutch of twelve?

Do you see the gentleness of a being,
Who only an hour ago,
Was basking in the first rays of the sun;
Her grey-brown feathers relishing early warmth,
Covering a heart of gold?

Or do you see a triumph, a trophy?
A bit of revenge,
A means of venting your anger,
From the row you had last night with your wife,
From the hollow laughter of your peers?

A way of getting your own back,
Of feeling more empowered;
Now that impotence has set in,
And your daughter’s not speaking to you any more,
And business is drying up?

Do you see a thing merely?
One of hundreds of thousands, of millions:
Born to die, bred for blasting;
Barely entitled to notice, (let alone compassion)
– Unless strung up and hanging?

Do you see a pot-pie,
To fill you with memories and nostalgia?
A warm sentimentality,
Over a long-dead grandmother,
The irretrievable gingham, of an idealized age?

A pudding to replace the patriotism,
That made you cry in assembly at school,
A boy, reliably whipped up by Jerusalem?
Do you see a few, exotic mouthfuls,
To be excreted out again in the morning?

In taking the life of another,
Are you suddenly bigger, better?
More “here and now,”
More connected,
Than you were before?

Do you feel a rush of blood,
As you drain hers?
The thrill of being alive,
As you force unnatural death,
Upon another?

Will you be filled with stories tonight?
Puffed up with pride and ‘manliness,’
Around the fire in the village pub?
Having played God with your killing stick;
Having put the world “in order.”

What do you see when you shoot?

What I see is a failure;
A blot on the divine landscape;
An empty heart,
That lacks imagination;
Clinging to the camaraderie of a death squad.

A broken ego who cannot create,
And so he destroys;
A poor exchange,
For the broken bird,
Now lying on the ground.

Heart fluttering, eyes fading: soul stolen…

By Heidi Stephenson.