Lambs, Lions, Lights

I have settled into my new position as the Medical Director of the Warrior Wellness Unit at the TriStar Skyline Madison Campus Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, and I am proud to be working with a group of professionals who are extremely dedicated to providing the best care possible for men and women serving in the active-duty military, especially those serving at Fort Campbell Army Base, up the road in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Given the nature of inpatient work, I cannot share my experiences with these men and women in the same way that I did when I was working at the VA. Yet I have begun meeting daily with the soldiers on my unit in “Doc’s Group,” in which we are sharing with each other ways that emotions, disappointments, and hopes can be expressed through the arts, including visual art, music, poetry, and essays. Some days I share items that I have collected. Some days the soldiers share items that have come to mean much to them or that they themselves have created.

Periodically I hope to share some of these soldier-created items, whether visual, musical, or literary. I will identify them generically as having been made by a “soldier” who, to maximize anonymity, will always be male. Each entry will have been shared directly with the soldier before it is posted, and he will have approved its publication.

For most of the soldiers, they wish to share their creations and their thoughts so that other active-duty military and veterans who have endured the traumas of combat might know that they are not alone, that there is hope that somehow what could never before be expressed might somehow, in some way find expression in a way that is meaningful and, at least to some extent, healing.

I am honored to work with these men and women, and I am glad to share their creations with you.


“You mean you’d really put this stuff on your blog?” the soldier asked me.

“If you’d like, of course.”

For a few moments, he looked genuinely confused. Then, quietly, he lowered his head and whispered, “Thanks, Doc.”

After a few moments, he looked back up at me.

“I never thought this stuff was very good. I hope I don’t embarrass myself.”


(Until lambs become lions)

Stay the flight of bullets
Blunt the hunters’ knives
Break the shepherds’ cudgels
For Earth belongs to the wolves at night.

He keeps this on the front of his writing notebook. He likes to remind himself that wolves can be both light and dark. Thus, although they are to be respected and even feared, they need not be feared because they are necessarily evil.

“Even wolves,” he told me, “can protect.”

“Furthermore,” he said,  “lions and lambs don’t just have to sit with each other in peace, like the Bible says. Lambs can try to become lions. They never really succeed, you know, but they try, not to become killers, but to become strong for others.”


The Soliloquy

Lately I have felt so low
Weighed down by the sin sewn
Into my soul.

Swimming in a sea of lies this high,
Concentrations of bullshit burn my eyes.

Fire running through my veins engulfs my emotions.
I cannot fuckin’ think straight.

Crawling through a reality of broken glass,
If one is afraid to bleed,
One will never last.

Stones fall from the heavens atop my head.
Yet I walk without fear or dread.

For I’m not the only one
Who in this Hell found his faith.
For we are many rams now,
Instead of sheep.

“The stones, they’re like rain, you know?” he said to me. “But you just keep walking.”


Rain falls from the sky, yet the sun still shines.
The wind lightly blows, caressing my skin.
The water runs down my face slowly,
Trickling like a tear,
Rays from the sun warming my soul.

Nature has emotions just like me.
In this moment, I feel like I am one with everything.

“It was just a poem I wrote, Doc, no big deal.”


The “Aperion”

There is a place I go from time to time.
It has no name.
Here there is no time.
Why I go, I do not know.

Maybe to be alone.
Think about shit.
Reflect on my life.

There’s no light,
Dark and void, no sound.
Deaf and blind, but conscious still.

Sometimes I walk
But this void is endless.

Questioning my sanity with every pace,
I begin to explore my emotions,
One at a time.
Hatred is always the last to manifest
For I know it the best.

Then I see it,
The unextinguishable flame,
From which all things came

It neither speaks nor listens.
It simply defies the darkness.
It illuminates the darkness of my soul.

I move closer and closer
Letting its warmth warm the numbness of my skin.

I reflect on my travel and trials
I have faced.

I administer my judgment of choices I have made.
I cast my verdict.
My sentence is set.
I need no jury,
For who are they to judge?

I’ve lived, loved, loathed, learned, and laughed.

I enter the fire willingly from whence I came.

May I arise from the ashes and wake again.
For I would carry the fire in me and see
The aperion of all things.

And bring a reality of serenity into being.

“The ‘aperion’ is absolute truth,” he told me, “the one that no one knows. Sometimes the world can feel so bad, I go to that dark place even when I don’t want to. But there is light there, Doc, I know it. Somewhere, there is light.”


I hope I don’t embarrass myself, Doc,” he had said to me.

Have no fear, soldier. You didn’t.

No way, nohow.

12 responses

  1. Doc, these poems are publishable. If there isn’t a way to tell the writer of these poems how good these actually are right now, you should find a way without delay. The writer should read about Hemingway who was born as a writer from the trauma of WWI burned into his soul as a young adult. I am a fan of Edgar Allan Poe who had the trauma of the Revolutionary Battles burned into his soul as a young child. There is a movement across America to bring these young Soldiers who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, to bring their experiences into the arts. We need this. It is an awakening for America. Interestingly, I go to this Soldiers fire myself in my own way. That story of his resonates with me and will resonate wi America. I will share this on my Soldier Heart page. Mike

  2. I just shared this entire post on Facebook. I was so touched by your soldier’s words and the depth of thought behind them. Thank you for sharing his work and please tell him to keep writing for himself and for all of us.

  3. Doc, I’m very touched by this soldier’s words. I especially liked the line “The aperion of all things.” I looked up aperion and found a definition in Merriam-Webster, with the spelling “apeiron.”. As I was reading the definition, a little dialogue box opened up asking me to identify where I’d heard the word and why I was looking it up. Here’s what I wrote (you can see the comment at:

    I found the word in a poem, actually spelled “aperion.” The quote is: “May I arise from the ashes and wake again.
    For I would carry the fire in me and see.
    The aperion of all things.”

    The poet is a soldier, and the poem is published anonymously in a post by psychiatrist Rod Deaton in his blog, Paving the Road Back: Serving Those Who Have Served in Combat. Here’s the link:

    • Mary Ann,

      Thanks you so much! I had thought I had heard something like that word before! Thanks for sending me on the right path. I too just looked it up, and it apparently has long referred to some ideas by one of the pre-Socratic philosophers, Anixamander. It carries with it the idea of the “infinite” and the “whole.” Interesting stuff!

  4. Wow Soldier. You done good. I am sure the likes and positive affirmations will be extremely humbling to you. As a therapeutic tool, writing has been my saving grace. Sometimes, it’s all I have left when I feel like there is nobody in the entire world who gets me…my pen and paper still understand.

    The risk you take by opening up your work to the world is well worth it when you start to hear people say that FOR ONCE…somebody understands them, that it was like you read their mind. Because all some of us ever want is just one other person to feel less alone…you’ve done that today, Sir.

    Thanks Doc for sharing this work.

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