+
upworthy
Family

'Words Whispered to a Child Under Siege' is a powerful poem about parenting in a war zone

Joseph Fasano's heartbreaking poem speaks volumes about our shared humanity.

man holding finger to his mouth as a signal to be quiet
Photo by Sander Sammy on Unsplash

How does a father keep a child comforted and quiet while under siege?

I've never been in a war zone, but as a mother of three, I've pictured it. Any time I read a news story about a part of the world that's exploded into violence, I imagine what it must be like for parents—especially those with small children—living through it. How do they explain what's happening? How do they comfort their kids when they themselves are terrified? How do they shield their children not only from unthinkable atrocity but from fear itself?

Joseph Fasano's poem "Words Whispered to a Child Under Siege" hits at the heart of those questions in a scenario that has played out countless times throughout human history. The poem's narrator is a father trying to comfort his child while they hide from soldiers in their house, and the way he makes a game out of it highlights the lengths parents will go to help children feel safe, even when they objectively aren't.

Fasano shared the poem on social media and it has been shared tens of thousands of time from different accounts. As one page warned, "Prepare your heart before reading." It's solid advice, though it's hard to know how to prepare for it.


The poem reads:

No, we are not going to die.

The sounds you hear

knocking the windows and chipping the paint

from the ceiling, that is a game

the world is playing.

Our task is to crouch in the dark as long as we can

and count the beats of our own hearts.

Good. Like that. Lay your hand

on my heart and I'll lay mine on yours.

Which one of us wins

is the one who loves the game the most

while it lasts.

Yes, it is going to last.

You can use your ear instead of your hand.

Here, on my heart.

Why is it beating faster? For you. That's all.

I always wanted you to be born

and so did the world.

No, those aren't a stranger's bootsteps in the house.

Yes, I'm here. We're safe.

Remember chess? Remember

hide-and-seek?

The song your mother sang? Let's sing that one.

She's still with us, yes. But you have to sing

without making a sound. She'd like that.

No, those aren't bootsteps.

Sing. Sing louder.

Those aren't bootsteps.

Let me show you how I cried when you were born.

Those aren't bootsteps.

Those aren't sirens.

Those aren't flames.

Close your eyes. Like chess. Like hide-and-seek.

When the game is done you get another life.

- Joseph Fasano

Fasano wrote in Instagram, "I hope these words do what words can do sometimes." They did, judging by the comment section:

"Gorgeously gut wrenching poem to read, and difficult to wrap our minds around the idea that this is and has been far too many people’s reality…I’ve been a fan of your poems for a while. You provide the perfect example I can show my students of how art and writing help us maintain our humanity ❤️"

"Thank you, Mr. Fasano. I have been walking around unable to make sense of anything that is happening in the world and I feel myself shutting down. Your words give voice to everything that I cannot find the words for. Thank you for your poetry. Thank you for sharing."

"Thank you for this tender and horrifying poem at such a time as this. How necessary your words are."

Poetry has a way of saying so much in so few words. Here we see a father's translating his frightened heartbeat and tears of terror into love for his child. We see him calling upon the child's mother as a way to comfort in an impossible situation. We see him blatantly lying—"You're safe. Those aren't bootsteps. Those aren't flames," all to keep his child from being afraid.

And the fact that this could be any father in any war zone in any place and time is a heartbreaking reminder of our shared humanity.

No matter the conflict or the rationale behind it, innocent people are the primary victims of war and children always pay the biggest price. When tensions and passions run high, we must remember this: Wars don't break out between average citizens just trying to live their lives in peace. War is a fight between powers, with men in safe rooms ordering less powerful men to take up arms against their fellow human beings. Average citizens don't want any part of these conflicts—they just want to take their kids to the park, talk about their days over family dinner and not worry about what games to play with their children if or when the bombs and boots start dropping.

You can find more of Joseph Fasano's poetry on Instagram and X (formerly Twitter), and you can pre-order his book, "The Magic Words: Simple Poetry Prompts That Unlock the Creativity in Everyone," here.

Humor

Woman shares wedding album her mom made that’s making people crack up

The photos were beautiful, but there was something hilariously wrong with the captions.

Woman's wedding gift from her mom is making people laugh.

There's no denying that a wedding day is a special memory most people want to hold onto for the rest of their lives. It's the reason people spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on wedding pictures and hand out disposable cameras to guests—to capture memories from all angles, including behind-the-scenes moments that you may forget due to the nerves beforehand.

One mother of the bride decided to take her daughter's beautiful wedding photos and create a special personalized photo album. But upon further inspection of the gift, the bride noticed that something was amiss. Niki Hunt, told Good Morning America that when her mom, Sherry Noblett, gave her the wedding album at brunch, she admitted she may have messed up.

"She’s very crafty, so usually when she says something like that, it’s something really small. I'm thinking some of the pictures are askew, or whatever," Hunt explained to GMA.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

Mom comes out to her 7-year-old as a sexual assault survivor. The discomfort was worth it.

Sometimes speaking our truth can help history from repeating itself.

Canva

Almost all the important conversations are uncomfortable

Sarah Shanley Hope's story is frighteningly common.

As a kid, she went over to her neighbor's house one day to play with her best friend. While there, her friend's older brother sexually assaulted both of them.

Hope was only 6 years old.

Keep ReadingShow less
True

After over a thousand years of peaceful relations, European semi-superpowers Sweden and Switzerland may finally address a lingering issue between the two nations. But the problem isn’t either country’s fault. The point is that the rest of the world can’t tell them apart. They simply don’t know their kroppkakor (Swedish potato dumpling) from their birchermüesli (a Swiss breakfast dish).

This confusion on the European continent has played out in countless ways.

Swedish people who move to the United States often complain of being introduced as Swiss. The New York Stock Exchange has fallen victim to the confusion, and a French hockey team once greeted their Swiss opponents, SC Bern, by playing the Swedish National Anthem and raising the Swedish flag.

Skämtar du med mig? (“Are you kidding me?” in Swedish)

Keep ReadingShow less

It all can happen at just the right time.

Media outlets love to compile lists of impressive people under a certain age. They laud the accomplishments of fresh-faced entrepreneurs, innovators, influencers, etc., making the rest of us ooh and ahh wonder how they got so far so young.

While it's great to give credit where it's due, such early-life success lists can make folks over a certain age unnecessarily question where we went wrong in our youth—as if dreams can't come true and successes can't be had past age 30.

Keep ReadingShow less
Mental Health

The danger of high-functioning depression as told by a college student

Overachievers can struggle with mental health issues, too.


I first saw a psychiatrist for my anxiety and depression as a junior in high school.

During her evaluation, she asked about my coursework. I told her that I had a 4.0 GPA and had filled my schedule with pre-AP and AP classes. A puzzled look crossed her face. She asked about my involvement in extracurricular activities. As I rattled off the long list of groups and organizations I was a part of, her frown creased further.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

Her boyfriend asked her to draw a comic about their relationship. Hilarity ensued.

The series combines humor and playful drawings with spot-on depictions of the intense familiarity that long-standing coupledom often brings.

All images by Catana Chetwynd


"It was all his idea."

An offhand suggestion from her boyfriend of two years coupled with her own lifelong love of comic strips like "Calvin and Hobbes" and "Get Fuzzy" gave 22-year-old Catana Chetwynd the push she needed to start drawing an illustrated series about long-term relationships.

Specifically, her own relationship.

Keep ReadingShow less