Sticks and stones may break my bones
but words will never hurt me.”

—A Maxim for Children

Poor Charlie felt he had the right
to be as hateful as he might;
that’s freedom of expression.
He travelled with the savvy smart,
was good with words and graphic art;
they polished his aggression.

It’s not as if he didn’t know
his wit dished out a hurtful blow,
such was his intention.
He called it satire, an old trick
of literary rhetoric
to mask his condescension.

“Watch your mouth,” his father said,
but Charlie self-expressed instead;
wise warnings were ignored.
His righteousness, he came to think,
with drafting pen and colored ink
more potent than a sword.

Those on the receiving end
of Charlie’s penchant to offend
stewed in this juice.
A self-expression more inclined
toward the body than the mind
let loose.

The awful consequences came
in retribution with a claim
on Charlie’s head.
Aggression had begotten more
aggression, evening the score.
Now Charlie’s dead.

“Sticks and stones
may break my bones,”
still rings the schoolyard cry,
“but words will never hurt…”
we also still assert,
and that… is just a lie.


38 responses »

  1. This is such a cleverly written poem Cynthia! But really no exclamation mark is needed. Why would I be surprised at the terrific content of any of your poems. They are all like a much needed breath of fresh air. Superb.

    • As you may have surmised, I thoroughly enjoyed the thoughtfulness in your post “Wait A Tic, Charlie Hebdo” and was in the process of penning this one at the time. Thank you, again!

  2. Powerful, thought provoking Cynthia – you lead us to the most horrific conclusion of consequences. You are a master in weaving your words. Hope this finds you safe and warm inside as the Nor’ Easter begins to bear down.

    • Yes, Mary, I know. This one isn’t exactly tiptoe-thru-the-tulips, so I thank you for being brave enough to comment.

      “They” say we are to expect blizzard conditions sometime in the next twenty-four hours, so I’ve been to the P.O, to mail out the copies of my book for this week, stocked-up on provisions and warming libations, and I only hope we don’t lose our lights and heat for an extended period of time!

  3. simply superb!! Brilliant, Cyn! fine discernment and prophetic naming the truth! Thank you! When will we learn a level of consciousness above thinking that insults are the best proof of the freedom of speech??
    and sending warm thoughts your way…yes, may you not lose electricity, and if you do, may someone come and stock you up with firewood and make you a blazing fire.

    • Bonsoir, mon amie! So nice to read your comment here. Thank you. I like that thought about my fireplace…it would indeed be a miracle if someone did as you say. We former Campfire Girls like nothing better than to build and tend and stare at a roaring fire…but alas the.hearth is cold and dark here…I just can’t manage it anymore by myself….and it really is a blessing in times when we lose electricity. I may just have to make it a one-dog, two-cat night if that happens!

      • just seeing your response now. for some reason the site didn’t alert me to your response! Now, do tell me, since I have no idea, what is a “one-dog, two-cat night”…….what an image! I cringe every time I hear of another big storm coming your way….we have been largely spared this year except for two bad “ice events”….keep safe and warm and…please keep writing and sharing it with us!

        • Oldtimers used to refer to the cold weather in terms of how many dogs you had to have sleeping with you in order to keep warm…three-dog night was the coldest I ever heard about… one-dog-two-cat night would have Chloë, Lulu, and Beau to keep me warm!
          I’m happy to hear you’re being spared, so far, from this….weather. 🙂

  4. Charlie had a smart mind, but he didn’t know how to use it in a beneficial way. He was also misunderstood, but he didn’t seem to want others to understand him. In other words, Charlie is was a mess, and now dead.

  5. Je ne suis pas Charlie.

    The other phrase caught on like wildfire in social media. I’m always weary of group think (and anything that blazes out of control). And, at times, I find it quite difficult to defend the freedom of a fawning and corrupted press. You get corporate truth, but somehow I don’t like that flavor.

        • But of course, I chose the second person plural, I admit, after some thought, not because you are plural ( the uniqueness of your wonderfulness precludes that) but because I was taught by Sister Mary Moses of the Burning Bush that it was the proper way to address elders (!) and others whom one respects. Seeing as how we seem to be becoming friends, on peut se tutoyer.

          • I wonder if Esperanto has this kind of–you’re as old as Methuselah and will soon depart the world with I hope such splendid and floriferous obsequies–and so I’ll mosey on up to some pluralistic pronoun to show respect? I hardly think so. And if we stick to English we’ll have one less possible thing to argue about–as friends. That’s gotta be worth something!

            • No, Esperanto has no such pronoun. ( In the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal that I was Vice President of the Esperanto Society of New England, in the late 1970’s and have a set of ESNE drink coasters to prove it…chalk it up to a youthful madness about languages.)
              Having committed, in my dotage, to a devotion to English poetry, and believing it the most glorious language of all, I say yes, let’s stick to English, my friend.

              • Naturally living for some 400 years does confer certain advantages–the gift of seeing into another’s linguistic past with the clarity normally bestowed upon spring water or the most halcyon of skies, the ability to construct daedal explanations for the miraculous machinations of life, the prim penchant for illimitable cynicism–all made possible by the judicious and sometimes capricious use of Shakespeare’s language: yes, in this we are two peas in a pod.

                • Cynthia, do you ever feel as though the walls are closing in? Soon this thread (Ariadne’s) will be so long that wordpress will serve it up one letter at a time (and poor Theseus will never escape that wretched labyrinth). Then the space for comments (we need a word for this…can Esperanto help?) will devolve to partial symbols, whereupon we will leave the ‘classical mechanics of language’ and enter a quantum world, where things are stranger than anything the Greeks or Romans could possibly have imagined (with the possible exception of the Taraxippoi, who are pallescent creatures, according to the Greeks, adept at frightening horses).

  6. Very true and well told Cynthia, words are extremely powerful, and Charlie obviously never knew!! At school I remember children used to say “Sticks and stones may break my bones…” after another child had said something nasty. It was an burst of defiance, determined not to be hurt by cruel words, but there was always a hurt look that phrase couldn’t remove. Because of course, once words are said, you can’t take them back or remove them.

    I think the Charlies of this world have a very different way of looking at how to communicate with others. I’ve met a few of those in my life. One particularly destructive fully grown Charlie used to send out letters pulling down other people and even got as far as cursing us with all sorts of vile things if we had differing views with his religious instruction of how we should be living our lives (and of course we did have differing views!). Horrible man, but also terribly sad that someone can be so blind to think that everyone else had a problem and they didn’t. I’m glad to say I’ve not met any of those in recent years – *deep breath – sigh* such peace!! 😀

    • So true, Suzy, about “that hurt look that phrase couldn’t remove”. Like many of the “sayings” we learn in childhood, the good intention is to teach how to live a happier life, but it flies in the face of the facts. We are indeed hurt by unkind words, and it may take a lifetime to learn not to be. Funny how grownups tell such things to children….I was recently in a shop where a young mother was telling her child—who dearly wanted a packet of candies on display—“No, dear, that has too much sugar, we don’t like all that sugar…”From the look on the child’s face, you could tell that this was another of those moments of contradicting the facts: of course we DO like that sugar, the child was certainly thinking; why is she saying we don’t? It’s a wonder any of us can think straight at all, by the time we reach adulthood! 🙂

      • Oh dear, the ‘we’ actually meaning ‘I’ – poor child! 😦 It’s no surprise that some people turn into adults who can’t think for themselves or become outrageously rebellious for no known reason. But that seems a good enough reason to start a rebellion to me! Yes, we will love sugar, no matter what anyone says!! 😉

  7. In my childhood, I had a number of “beliefs” that turned out to be “lies”…but of all of them, I’d say the “sticks and stones” myth shattered with the most inner feeling and freedom, no sense of betrayal and mistrust, just a softening that came with the admission — words hurt. Charlie is/was a case in point (that words do, indeed, hurt, no softening in this case though). I can only hope that all the words (and acts) I myself have thrown like knives into someone’s tender heart will one day lose their sharpness…forgiveness is the key, I think, forgiveness that lessens the pain of memory does happen, non?

    • Somehow I cannot see you as that knife-thrower, Anna,, though I know we all end up hurting others sometimes, mostly without intention.Holding grudges is living in the past, so yes, as you say, forgiveness is key, beginning with the forgiveness of ourselves….oui, it does happen!

      • Yes, and those “grudges” can be subtle, can’t they? Silent little resentments…that we try so hard not to act on or within, but are nevertheless rooted in what I suppose is incomplete forgiveness. Is it ever complete, or do we just do our best with how the past enters the present, however subtle…and through our memory of it, which in my experience, though it changes, never dies. I wrote a poem about “Archaeology of Truth” and I’ve done some reading in my day about these things. It does happen…over and over again, especially if the one we need to forgive is absent, silent or just inaccessible, perhaps unwilling, or just on a different “page”. Who knows…

        • I remember reading, some years ago, in one of Tich Nhat Hanh’s books that our thoughts are like a garden where there are good seeds and bad seeds—some inherited, and some planted by ourselves. The trick is not to water the bad ones, in the hope they may never sprout and grow, but to water only the good ones. How’s that for becoming a lovely garden!

    • The admiration is mutual. When I visited the Kamloops Courthouse Gallery site recently, I particularly liked what you say and how you say it in watercolour! I have been a hobbyist autodidact in watercolour and no matter what other media I tried, always returned to it. Of course I am not anywhere near accomplished as you are… best medium is words. Thank you so much for all your visits and “likes”. I am also following your blog, and enjoy your perspective on things.

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