A Soldier's Poem

I was really moved by this poem from Soldiers To Summits participant, Matt Burgess, which was inspired by our recent program. It speaks to me because it reflects the struggle and pain it takes to break through barriers, gain traction, and ultimately transform our lives. All that chaos, turmoil, and conflicting emotion represents the reality of change and growth, and that it’s the commitment to a lifetime of hard work, not just one program being a cure-all.

Like many soldiers, Matt had an arduous time in Iraq and came home with a brain injury from an explosion as well as posttraumatic stress. He writes, “Stuff I saw, did, witnessed, and endured during my three deployments is stuff no one would wish for voluntarily. However, much like your book, The Adversity Advantage, mentions, though I wouldn't wish for it, I would do it all over again, because it has made me a much better person... If my adversity can help others, then that is what I am all about and makes it very worth it.”

Matt is now volunteering with Disabled American Veterans to help transition this organization from older vets to younger vets and is now Vice Commander at his local chapter. He is also actively involved with Veteran’s Heart of Georgia. Matt says, “Although it is challenging to open up and relive some pretty traumatic events, I have forced myself to do it as I have seen the light bulb moments on the faces of these civilians who are trying to understand and help veterans in any capacity they can. The people I meet in this organization inspire me, and are the reason I force myself to stay engaged in what I call the post-war fire fight.”

One of our goals with S2s is for soldiers not just to climb mountains but to take the experience and use it to do good in the world. Matt embodies that.

Here’s Matt’s poem:

Screaming, with a calm smile – by Matt Burgess

I called for help, but you couldn’t hear

Can you not see, beneath my anger, turmoil, and smiling face, is simply fear,

I miss what I perceive as lost

In my mind and heart that is daily tossed,

What I was then, before it was taken

I want it back again

Then I realize, not really, because I’m a much better person NOW, then I was back then,

Every day I screamed it in your face,

But you couldn’t see it, because I don’t fit the mold, I’m outside the “norm”

That identity that I so long held to is gone

Its useless now, but the same mind and heart live on,

Can you see them, shining so bright?

Even amidst the days that are my darkest night,

Or are you blind to the radiance right in front you

Since I’m the outlier of what you know must be true,

Strength, weakness, good, bad, wanted, unwanted, liked, disliked,

The focus on what is different, instead of what we have in common,

I know you can’t give me myself back

That is my job, finding who I am NOW, is my daily back pack,

When will you start talking again?

I don’t know,

Not talking isn’t not thinking,

Though I may not talk

I get out of bed every day, and begin life’s new walk,

“Used to be bad asses”

But no longer true, no matter what we do,

Only when killing people, wearing the uniform, or physical strong

Can the term Soldier, or bad ass, be applied and carried on,

Can you see beyond my words?

Can you ever learn to not take something at face value?

When I smile in your face, yet inside my heart is hollow,

Can you begin to look at the unspoken feeling that drives the angry words?

Faster, harder, more, more, more, never enough

So lives on the military way of what is good, and TOUGH,

And we go to our daily graves, exhausted, never accepted, striving for dad’s love

Till we realize he couldn’t give it to us, cause he couldn’t give it to him self

And we ask forgiveness for him, from above

Beginning the journey of our own self acceptance and love,

Survival of the fittest

That is what society wants to witness,

Did I summit if I give you a smile?

When I really want to run a way for a while,

Was it a victory when I stayed engaged?

Despite being inwardly outraged,

When my words are broken, and betray me

Can you see my heart beating tenderly and softly?

If I am kind and tender

Can acceptance be rendered?

Do I have to put myself in harm’s way to achieve your designated “hero” status?

If I simply care about humanity, and express emotions,

Am I now no longer a hero, but also a zero?

Labels, labels, and more labels

And thus lives on the disharmony, differences, and fables,

The divides become deeper,

The crevasses sucking us in, instead of being our brother’s keeper,

Focus on what one isn’t, and the illness they have

Instead of their humanity, and their incredible path,

A focus on the disability

Instead of the incredible individual possibility,

What worked in there, doesn’t work out here,

When the identity that worked for so long

Is suddenly useless and gone

Most don’t figure out how to thrive, and live on,

Clinging to the past

Wondering why the personal self loathing continues to last,

Who I am NOW

Is the best ME,

With the ability to grow, accept, develop new mind sets, change, find inner peace, and be free,

The deepest measure of a man?

You tell me

Only you can define that

Have you ever defined that?

I know my definition and I'M ok with it

Are YOU OK with my definition, or, am I not OK with you, if our definitions aren’t the same,  will you burn me in your non acceptance pit,

Can’t breathe, can’t breathe, the panic sets in…

But we sit up straight, one gasp at a time, fighting the demons within,

We breathe in the inhaler of new mindsets, creating confidence and inner peace,

A wry smile crosses the heart,

As we learn again,

Nothing will stop us, we soldier on, knowing, one more battle, one more summit, one more personal war,


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