Empathy

By Katherine Gotthardt

The turtle has been crushed by a mower,
life leaving through cracks in its shattered shell, 
coagulated, looking like cranberries and minced meat, 
the poor thing bobbing an intact head 
trying to look behind itself, as if 
wondering what could have gone wrong.
And I am devastated because I can neither 
put it out of its misery nor explain what happened.
All I can do is tell the dogs to leave it alone,
keep walking our well-worn trail.

I chide myself for being so sensitive. 
It’s true – I am a sniffling geek.
I tear up over a British soap opera, even after the fact:
The orphan kitchen maid adopted by a father
who’s lost his sons in the war.
Love thwarted for a handsome man 
imprisoned for a murder he never committed.
An aging butler, stoic in illness,
demanding propriety though he might be dying.

Still, I’m not so bad as my husband
crying at movies (yes, even in theaters)
whenever little girls lose their father
or a puppy an owner. He comes home
and shows me YouTube videos: 
a paraplegic Veteran singing opera, 
a blind woman in Russia making sand art,
an autistic British vocalist belting out an American favorite,
parents applauding while weeping from the sidelines.
We watch and tear up together. 

When I was five, my father told me 
I had the gift of tears, said I should be grateful. 
He meant it in a religious sense,
because I’d cried over a song about Jesus dying,
betrayed by those who should have loved him,
and something about Joseph, a hard-working carpenter,
teaching his young one to saw. 
He left, and I never believed I had a gift. 
I now just know it as sadness, as empathy, 
ability to see strings that tie us to the universe,
the connecting fiber of all that is,
those things that make us delicate.
Not one of us is separate,
not one of us above another.
And no one deserves such pain.
The turtle, the child, the father –
I want them put back together,
want them all to heal.
Starting with myself. 

Katherine Gotthardt

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, M.Ed., writing concentration, hails from the Northern Virginia/D.C. metro area. She considers herself a writer by nature and by trade, having begun writing for fun as soon as her mother helped teach her to read. An active part of the literary community, Katherine is current president and a founding member of Write by the Rails (WbtR), the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. Katherine has been a Prince William County Poet Laureate nominee and was the winner of Inside Nova’s 2019 and 2020 Best of Prince William award in the category of author. Her poetry and prose book Get Happy, Dammit: Staying Inspired and Motivated in an Often-Unhappy World received a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association. Katherine's children’s book, A Crane Named Steve, hit number one in its category on Amazon in 2019. Katherine then took first place in the free verse category of Loudoun County Library Foundation’s 2020 Rhyme On poetry contest for her piece "Discussion Topic." The Prince William Arts Council and Poet Laureate Circle awarded her the 2020 Outstanding Poetry Project Award for her leadership in Write by the Rails' Poems Around Town poetry installation. In 2021 Katherine earned second place for "Aftermath" in a Poetry Society of Virginia national contest and the regional Seefeldt Award for Arts Excellence in the category of Individual Artist. She won first place in the Virginia Writers Club statewide Golden Nib contest in the poetry category for her poem "Kayak." While Katherine is well-known for her poetry, she also has established a solid reputation for writing articles, columns and short fiction. She is a full-time marketing writer for a government contracting company and is published in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has authored nine books: Poems from the Battlefield, Furbily-Furld Takes on the World, Approaching Felonias Park, Weaker Than Water, Bury Me Under a Lilac, Late April, A Crane Named Steve, Get Happy, Dammit and D.C. Ekphrastic: Crisis of Faith.
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