We Could Not Look Away: Not Another 17, Not Another One- A Collabrative Poem

I am part of online writers group from GoDogGoCafe and recently we came together to voicing our grief and sadness over the latest school shooting. This is a heavy topic that needs to be discussed openly and frequently. My hope with these words is to not commiserate in woe and anguish but to inspire reform and change. Understand that we individuals in society can and do have a vital role in changing what happens in our homes, neighborhoods, and countries. Feel free to reblog and share this as much as you can.


Just another day
just another town
bullet perforated backpacks
spilling loose-leaf lined paper, textbooks
onto blood stained sidewalks
helicopters hovering
to give us the birds eye view
I tried to avert my eyes
out of respect for the dead
the injured
but I could not look away
Christine Ray

Even though I should
Because I am ashamed
At the bullets that rain
At the bullet point pain
Etched in their faces, rivulets in their eyes
They were just children, stolen from their time
Not forgotten in these lines
But to their parents and loved ones
It’s a void they’ll never fill, and it shouldn’t
Lives shredded and ruined
17 times we’ve gotten the chance to do better
and for the 18th, we blew it
Just like those children who looked at their killer

Their killer is not Nikolas

The Killer is you
Devereaux Frazier

Seventeen blossoms
seventeen blinks of an eye
seventeen bullets in the body of spring
and those left behind
food to flashback phobias
memory outbursts
Spring won’t be coming
in a town far away
in a country across the sea
right next to me
Basilike Pappa

Running for class president
Running for the Varsity Football Team
Running to get in line for a movie they can’t wait to see
Running to embrace someone they love
Running and laughing with siblings or friends
Running to get to the dance floor before their favorite song ends
Running for exercise
Running for fun
They should never be running from the thunder of a gun
We’re destroying our future for profit and gain
While they run for their lives
And we’re left with questions and pain
Eric Syrdal

Look away, little bird.
The sky has adjourned, rejecting your flight path
well into wrath.
hell hath no fury like the anger turned apathy, semi-automatic rhapsody that plays on
the overhead speaker that once freed us
from maths.

It doesn’t add up, the physics, social studies, introduction to business, life and
death 101.

Nothing could prepare us for the words we don’t have.
Nicholas Gagnier

Lives swung into darkness
and voices numbed
Eyes losing hope
Blood on the hands, soul
screams and tears everywhere

Deafening silence of the death
and roaring sound of the violence
life stripped of its happiness
and tears losing the feeling

Yet again, My heart is hopeful
Lips in unison with the prayers
Trying to calm my self down
Thinking It won’t happen again

But deep down inside
I know we all are living in denial.
Megha Sood

Spare me your
thoughts and prayers.
Spare me your
people-kill-people babble.
Seventeen more names
added to a statistic
that will never be used.
So, by all means,
let’s keep sending
millions of dollars a year
to powerful people
in exchange for turning
a blind eye.
Proving over and over again
that dollars mean more
than lives.
Sarah Doughty

Seventeen more reasons we grieve.
Seventeen more reasons we’re
broken as a nation.
Seventeen more reasons we must
rise up
a giant against apathy, and
willful ignorance.
Destroy the dissidence.
End the agenda of greed.

Our freedoms are not free—
seventeen more innocent souls sacrificed.
Kindra M. Austin

True horror has unfolded,
We watch on glowing screens of disbelief.
With the voices of innocents ringing in our ears,
Fingers swipe it all away.
As others moved on with their day,
I could not look away.

Grief, pain, disbelief,
All right there, before our eyes.
Yet one headline replaces the next,
That gut-wrenching sadness suddenly replaced.
As the topic changes to something else,
I could not look away.

Where is our humanity,
I ask as society moves on from this butchered elephant in the room.
Can’t we just stop and think,
Acknowledge the death, the suffering, the wrongness.
Another day will come and go, setting on our community,
We cannot look away.

Doomed to repeat this dreadful fate,
We need to choose to change.
Insanity is as insanity always does,
As we continue to place ammunition with malignant intent.
What can I do, the individual, the lone soul, this:
I will not look away.
Michael Erickson

Have ourselves
To blame for this
Again and again
An unsolved tragedy
We must hold ourselves to task
For every death. Every child
Like spent shells fallen to the ground
Souls adrift to haunt those who do not act –
Who do not act again and again and again
I cannot look away again, again, again
Again, again, again, again, I cannot look away, not again.
Stephen Fuller

I cannot look away
From the train wreck shit show
This country has become,
Where cash in a senator’s pocket
Outweighs the blood of our children,
Where losing your ‘right’ to own an assault rifle
Is more an abomination
Than Children being murdered in school
Than human beings dying at a concert in Vegas
Than parents burying their babies.
The blood on your hands will not wash away.
I’m with you in Parkland!
Where kids call presidents out on their bullshit.
I’m with you in Parkland!
Where they won’t let hypocrites hide.
I’m with you in Parkland!
Where they call BS on the lies.

I’m with you in Parkland!
John W. Leys




A Time To Fail

As the month of May is about promoting discussion on Mental Health I’ve been itching to write my own thoughts on recent experiences with my own mental health.

To give you a bit of background my undergraduate degree was in human development across the life span, as well as dabbling in communications and family violence/dynamics. I’ve also studied anatomy/physiology/neuroanatomy, psychology, interpersonal communication, anthropology, and paleontology (I also have my own collection of plastic dinosaurs). I’ve worked with individuals who are recovering from substance abuse, homelessness, addiction, oncology, and incarceration. I’ve interacted with individuals who have autism, mental disorders, physical disorders, sensory disorders, and developmental delay. In my personal life, I grew up with a grandmother who suffered from schizophrenia.  Having eight years of formal education as well as five years of practical experience in the field, I consider myself a complete novice in a lot of things and am in no way an actual expert in any one thing.

That being said I have a story to tell, and a viewpoint that I am somewhat terrified to share.

Rewind seven years ago. I was loosing some of my freshman shine in my second semester of college. Having been recently married and pretending to be a responsible adult I found myself in a Psychology 1010 class. On that day my professor stood up in front of the class and said, “Each and every one of you will fail in their life at one point or another.”

The lecture hall filled with uneasy laughter as our professor paused for a minute.

“No, ” he said, his smile having fled the scene, “this isn’t a joke. You all will fail.”

I remember thinking, ‘Well that’s kind of bleak, don’t you think? Where is he going with this?”

He continued, “Failure is a natural part of life. Each one of us has experienced it, and will continue to experience it at some point in our life.”

The hall grew quiet as all of our attention zeroed in on this professor. I could feel tension rising from every body in in the room, including my own.

“It may not happen to you today, or tomorrow but at the end of the day you will fail, you will screw up and it will be big.”

As a student in a somewhat ‘high-brow’ university, paying out the nose to attend over-populated classes, you don’t want to hear that you will fail. Having been conditioned from an early age to always look to success, each student paused. At that given moment our collective blood pressures  could have shot the roof off of the building. We were in this race to win it, we were in this Hunger Games style arena aptly referred to as, ‘college.’

Pins could have been dropped a millimeter from the carpeted ground and you still would have heard them. My professor pushed onwards, “But you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to fail. That’s how we naturally learn as human beings. We make mistakes, we make poor judgements, and in the end we find ourselves with the wrong answer. And it’s okay.”

I wasn’t feeling okay with this line of thinking.

“We learn by goofing up, failing papers, and getting the wrong answer on the first try. That’s because we are programed and designed to learn step by step, pace by pace.”

The words of his lecture fade from my mind even as I type this, but I remember feeling a vast unease swallowing my mind. I left the lecture hall thinking, ‘Pssh, that won’t happen to me. I’d rather be buried alive than fail.”

Now fast forward to May 2016. I was half way through a master’s program I’d already dedicated 5 years of my life to getting into and completing. I gave up a career in oncology work, disappeared from my friends’ and family’s lives. I was a ghost of a father and husband staying up to obscene hours of the night, every night.

I was a shell, a husk of a man. My wife would look at me every night before going to sleep, as if to say, “Who are you?”

And I found myself not knowing the answer.

It was finals week and I had finished my last final of the Spring semester. It had been a challenging semester. My brain was beyond mush. So when my phone buzzed notifying me of an email it took quite some time before I understood what as going on. It was an email from the chair of my program, never a good thing in my book.

I had had my struggles with the program. Having had to sit out for an entire academic year to retake a course, I constantly found myself on the back-burner of the faculty’s “what-do-we-do-with-him” list. I knew my grades were suffering, and that I wasn’t doing the best in some of my class, but I wasn’t doing the worst. Or so I thought.

“Please meet with me at the end of this week. Thank you.” was all that the Chair wrote to me. What little emotions I had left inside my brain stirred with unease. The meeting was scheduled for the last Friday of the semester. And I watched everyday before hand as my grades dropped lower, and lower, and lower. Feedback from my professors grew more and more negative, and I found myself balking at the bluntness of their responses to me.

“What’s going to happen?” My wife asked, in a small voice as we laid in our bed staring at the ceiling one night.

“I’m going to be kicked out.” I said. Feeling what little of me remained crumble to dust. The morning of the meeting I called back my old job and asked if they had a position for me. And with an air of dehydrated anticipation we left for the meeting.

The building was low and ugly as we walked towards it, arm in arm. Windows stared at us, black frames foreboding in their place. The walls were gray, blending into lifeless carpet. As we took proffered seat, the Chair’s desk before me lay piled high with a disarray of paper. A  stern face held a look of bored resolve as the Chair fingered an envelope.

“I’m sorry we have to meet like this, but your grades have slipped below the line. Your teachers tell me you don’t listen to feedback, you don’t make changes, and you don’t demonstrate the ability to function within this line of work. So you are hereby dismissed from this program.”

It was so abrupt, so devoid of human emotion. They could have slapped me in the face and I would have preferred it. I wanted to scream. ‘I have a family you know?’ I wanted to throw all the messy piles of paper off the desk in front of me. ‘I have children that don’t see me for weeks on end.’ I wanted to blame it on the lack of investment I had seen withdrawn from me.‘I have a wife that was hoping to stay home with the kids next year until they grew up.’ I wanted to blame the department, the not-to-code architecture of the building. ‘We wanted to move away and buy a house.’ I wanted to blame the utter lack of empathy and understanding that one who had already experience this program should give to a student. ‘I wanted a meaningful career.’

Never mind the life-altering experiences I’d been a part of with countless patients and clients. Never mind to those working professionals that all but begged me to contact them the minute I graduated for a job.

“You are hereby dismissed.”

I failed. I failed big. Even with my wife at my side, I found myself alone and with no one to blame but myself.

What happened in the intervening months is almost too hard to put into words. I quickly fell into a depression as everyone I knew and loved asked me what happened. Not a day went by when someone would ask, “How is school going?” “Oh dear, whatever happened?” and “That’s just too bad.”

For the first time in my life I felt the sliding arms of a dark depression wrap around my mind. It was almost like that feeling you get when you knock the wind from  your lungs, and try as you might you just can’t fill them fast enough with air. I couldn’t feel the happiness of having two beautiful children vie for my attention. Nor could I feel the anguish and fear that had made my wife’s radiant smile dim.

Books no longer held any pull to me, and I would often realize, mid bite, that I was eating something. Work was work and I performed it robotically. I was depressed and I didn’t want to do a damn thing about it.

There were only two constants through this period. My wife and kids, and writing. My wife is a saving grace. She knows what it’s like, feeling the darkness, the sliding sensation of a pathetic apathy towards life. It’s almost like you are a tiny muppet, trying to control a huge mechanical body. You know how it’s suppose to go, you know the body is functioning at peak capacity, but you lack the energy and understanding of working the controls. She knew what I was feeling and did her utmost to be understanding, and not angry with me, although I beat myself up everyday about it.

I didn’t keep a journal, like you’re always suppose as a writer. Instead I found myself typing down stories in the dead of night. Some of them were horrific. Some of them sad. Other’s contained hope, joy, and laughter. Some came straight from my life. I found a part of myself, separate from the pain, depression, anger, and sorrow that was my mind. And I nurtured it.

“Maybe you should start a blog.” My wife said one night. She was no stranger to my writing habits of the previous six years. I had started a blog and stopped it with the intention of never returning to it ever again. She knew of my obsession with reading and dreams to be a published author. She had heard some of the hundreds of stories that waited to be released through my finger tips.

“Really?” I replied, quelling the spark of hope I felt in my chest. I had shared the thought with her some time back, but had immediately stopped any and all efforts towards it.

“Yes, try it.” She looked at me. For the first time in months I was able to look her in the eye. “Maybe you should stop doing all your other social media stuff while you’re at it too.”

And thus this blog was born. It’s been one of the most challenging years of my life. No, I have no diagnosis of depression, nor have I formed any disorders. I haven’t suffered from chronic depression my entire life. But over the past year I have felt my mental health crumble, and rebuild.

I am me. Incredibly imperfect and awkward in so many ways. I still feel the fingers of depression press in on me when more of life’s challenges come. I find myself in a trough of life, stuck between two waves as I watch friends and acquaintances move forward to the dreams I once thought I needed to be me.

I “failed big,” this last year. And now I have picked up the pieces of my life and am learning how to live. In this span of time I’ve come to some realizations about life and myself:

  1. I can no longer judge someone by the mistakes they make in their life.
  2. Depression deserves understanding, no matter what.
  3. Failure promotes growth.
  4. I cannot afford to waste time on being negative towards others, especially to those who fail. Everyone deserves to be understood.
  5. Why judge someone when you can learn from them?

Now, a year later I find myself satisfied as I watch my boys play knights and Star Wars with each other. I relish those moments when they pause and say, “I love you daddy.” I’ve never been as close to my wife as I am now. We’ve known one another for more than twelve years and now I feel like we finally understand each other. I’ve never been happier with my work as I help patients with their recovery. I write daily, well I should say nightly. And with this blog I’ve posted over 100 pieces. These pieces have in turn, reached over 50 different countries world wide.  I’m entering pieces of work into global and international competitions. There have been many kind and constructive words passed on to me by wonderful followers. In short, I’ve never felt more triumphant with my life than now.

There are times where I feel a darkness pass over my eyes, and my mind grow heavy with remorse. Memories from the past still haunt me, and may continue to do so for a while. It’s part of this experience we call life.

So if I can impart any kind of wisdom to you after writing all of these words, it’s this:

In this day and age, I feel our society doesn’t necessarily acknowledge that we have to struggle and fail. It is when we break down and make mistakes that we actually grow. With modern advances of social media and our ability to be constantly observed and in contact seems to demand perfection in our every day lives. But real life doesn’t work like that. We have to fail to become better.

Right now I find myself in a good area. I know hard times will always come and go. Life will present me with more challenges that may bring my depression back. I can’t say I know exactly what someone else with mental health challenges is going through, but I can say that my experience has taught me to have more compassion, respect, and understanding for those people who do.

When you come across another person, remember they are struggling through this day as well. We are all failures of one sort or another, imperfect and not without our blemishes. It does no one good to further that tarnishing. Just as we ourselves deserve kindness and light in our lives, so does everyone else.

And to finish, here’s a song I adopted a while back as my theme song. Happy listening.
-M.E. Inkowl