Show artwork for Wild

The Veterans Song Cycle

Posted on: February 21, 2020

Opera embraces all the arts: music, design, fashion (and that's just a start). These all help contribute to that special stage magic you can’t find anywhere else. But you know what’s something about opera that’s really amazing? The way it welcomes all people into the art form. And even inspires others to create new art.

That’s where the Veterans Song Cycle comes in.  

On January 11, veterans from Returning Soldiers Speak composed poetry inspired by the idea of "writing their own myth." This collaborative event invited the audience to participate and even gave out handmade chapbooks that were created and designed by the veterans.  

Veterans from The Mindful Warrior Project’s Women Veterans Eurydice Project wrote poetry about the myth of Eurydice and our new opera. These poems were put to music by composer Brooke deRosa and then performed at a special post-show event on February 23, 2020. During the event Gail Soffer of The Mindful Warrior Project facilitated a panel discussion featuring women veterans. They shared their personal stories about finding themselves in the land of the dead, choosing to make their way back up to the land of the living and light, and not looking back.

This whole project is part of our Veteran’s Circle ticketing program. What’s that, you’re wondering? We arrange for veterans across Los Angeles to attend three productions a season for free. Seriously. You can find out more here.  

Curious about the veterans' work? Check out some of the art and poetry below created by Mindful Warrior Project’s Women Veterans Eurydice Project.

1. Haiku
Darkness and numbness
No sparkling celebration
Death’s heavy stillness

Wrenched away from life
It all goes on around me still
But I am numb
Disconnected from all the nonsensical activity
Overwhelmed by the vastness of all that is not life
But pain, darkness, despair
Living in an anti-world
Too much, too much, too much

3. Haiku
Slowly sinking deep
Swallowed up in earth’s damp heart
Fog swirls and obscures

4. Haiku
Is it possible
That music can lift me out
Of this underworld

5. Haiku
Purity of sound
This universal language
Frees me from death’s grip

Veterans Art 16.
What does it feel like,
Not to feel?
To be numb
To realize you just went through a red light
And not care
Becoming aware
To be in increments
Or in jumps
Or in bounds
It is no longer a safe place
When others can be effective
It is no longer a comfortable, safe place
Not to feel.
Can you look back
Once you start to come out
Of the land of the dead?
Or is it required as to not slide back?
Where is the division
Between being a good thing
Or a bad thing
Between therapeutic reflection
And a steady slide back
Or a combination of the two?
Is it being numb to feelings, thoughts
Or is it rather a protective barrier
To be able to make it through the day
The hour
The minute
Perhaps being in the land of the dead
Acts as a respite
The trick, you see,
Is to come out
And arise to another sustainable reality

Oh the joy of seeing the light again
After feeling the despair of darkness
Not daring to dream of a second chance
In the depths
The smothering weight
Makes taking a breath an effort
Pointless, really
And almost painful
Prolonging the suffering.
But what choice?
When the pain has no apparent end
And the darkness stretches into infinity
Yet the breath sneaks in
And on it goes
And then
A visitor
A possibility
Light and life can again be mine?
An offer
A gift
Follow me out into the Land of the Living
Dare I trust?
Could I bear dashed hopes?
The breath insists I try
Life’s relentless champion

I relate to getting thrown down into the Land of the Dead due to a betrayal by an Orpheus
named James. He and I had been very happy for over 22 years. We did everything together
and went everywhere together.
After all those years together I found out that he started seeing another woman. I was
devastated; he was my whole world. My world fell apart. I fell into the Land of the Dead. I felt
so all alone but didn’t want to be with any of my friends or go anywhere. I was so depressed.
After about a year, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. I said to myself, “Enough is enough.
Get on with your life.”
I happened to run into James a few months later. He looked terrible – as if he had ages 10
years in one year. At first I was happy; it was payback time. Then, after looking at him and
seeing how sad he looked, I felt sorry for him.
Getting back with my friends brought me back from the Land of the Dead. I keep busy trying
to do things to help other veterans. I find that very rewarding, and it helps keep me in the Land
of the Living.

Sing to us, oh Orpheus
Play your divine music
Enchant the forces of darkness
So they release us from their grip
Prove to us that the Land of Light and Life
Can again be our home
That we are not forever exiled
That there are powers greater than those
That condemned us to the underworld
Sing until those walls crumble
Play until I dance free
And again celebrate life

Another place
Another time
Familiar but different
The person you were
Is not the person you now have found yourself to be
Some of the people are the same
But you have to re-learn
How to communicate
Reconnect with
Or decide not to reconnect with
Those from the past
To recognize
You are in a different place
Things do not quite fit
As they did in the past
A different reality
A different plane
Re-learning involves finding
Who you are
A starting place
But how do you move forward
When the ground beneath you
Has shifted
One needs a solid footing
After a while
The Land of the Dead
Becomes familiar
Your new reality
A present state of mind
The familiar becomes comfortable
Like a worn out sweater
Not quite warm
But something to cloak yourself in
At least, you say to yourself,
For now
Learning new ways
To make it through the day
And nights
Until the next day
Or night
Then on to the next
The past
“pre Land of the Dead”
Memories more translucent
Like ripples on a pond
Periodically catching the light
But distorted

The serpent of temptation
Caused Adam and Eve’s exile
From the Garden of Eden
His Greek cousin bit Eurydice
On her wedding day
Throwing her into the
Land of the Dead
So I take up the banner
Of the American colonists
And, myself, become the snake that warns
Don’t Tread on Me
Coiled and ready to strike out
Against abuse and tyranny
Not aggressive or attacking
But fiercely defending
And protecting
My right to
And the pursuit of happiness
Don’t Tread on Me!

That’s why they call them invisible wounds
There’s no missing limb
No patch over an empty eye socket
No burn-scarred, disfigured face
Just fury mixed with despair
And an anguished cry inside
When someone says
“Come on; put a smile on that pretty face”
Or tells us to “just cheer up”
Or “get over it already”
It’s too much for a human being to bear
Much less comprehend
And its weight buries me
Forcing me down into the land of the dead

Veterans Art 213.
Reminds me of a time
After the military
I couldn’t find who I was.
I felt trapped in a world
I was unaware of,
Where everything was foreign.
I had to find who I was
And my place in this new civilian world.
I felt terrified
But curious
About what the future had
In store for me.
I was lost
No identity
Not knowing where
This new path would lead me
Confused if my decision
To leave the military
Was the best choice for my life
Do I go back
Because I’m scared of the unknown?

Leaving the land of the dead
I must move forward
And not look back
I acknowledge the ripped fabric
Of my wedding gown
The puncture marks on my leg
The blood on my body
All the damage
Dashed dreams
Tears in my heart
They will always be with me
I acknowledge them
But I will not be chained by them
My freedom from
Comes from not locking eyes
With those demons
Not feeding them
Not giving them energy
Or power over me
As with my wedding vows
“For better or worse”
They will be part of me
So be it
But I will not get
Sucked back into their world
My reality is now
And so they remain
But fade and lose power
And I am free

Thank you, Father Creator,
For the warming light
Because all others
And all other things
Have failed.
It has been very disappointing
But very enlightening
Only because I learned
What didn’t work
And not to trust myself
Nor man.
Your love, your love
Sweet warm embrace
The government failed me
When I had the overwhelming passion to serve
All to fall prey
So early in my goal
To make it a very
Proudfull, successful journey.
I had to let it all go
To get on a safer path
I didn’t know
The overwhelming effect
It was going to have on me.
There was far too much
Suppressed emotions of anger
And bitterness from the disappointment.
I suffered far too long
But when your light of
Goodness, peace, and joy
Began to permeate my sould
I was transformed from the death
Of a deep pit of darkness
To a safe, loving, warming light.
I am so grateful
To be where I am.
Life is so much more meaningful.
I feel a greater sense of purpose
Even at this moment
As I chose to reflect back.
There is no fear nor anger
Because I am free.
I am more intuned
To life’s rhythm of greatness.
Goodness is overflowing
Blessings are of a continuous momentum.
Where is the plateau?
Please let there be no more limits
To all of your possibilities
That are extended in one’s lifespan.
Sometimes the “why”s still come
But I’m still in a learning cycle.
The one thing I must learn
Is to accept the answers to the “why”s.
Yes to closed doors!
Because open doors mean
Far greater things.

Lot’s wife turned into
A pillar of salt when she could not resist
Looking back
As they fled
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Looking back
In time or place
Can kill you
Or it can heal you.
You can see how far you’ve come
Escaping the darkness
Moving beyond the
Pain, trauma, deadness
See how much more alive you are
Turning back
You can see it all fade
Into the distance
As you dance forward
Into the light

Going to the land of the dead,
The land of hopelessness,
The land of
“How did I get here,
And how the hell am I going to get out?”
But I know that God, the Great Spirit,
Will help me.
My child and I
Are in the land of the homeless,
Sleeping on a mat
In the dining area
With others surrounding us.
Some are very nice;
Some are out of their minds
So we must be careful.
But at this point

There can be comfort in the darkness.
The fog of forgetfulness
Numbs the pain of what I have lost,
Deadens the longing for what
Has been torn away from me,
Fills the vast empty space
With a swirling mist
Of nothingness
Illusion of presence.
And I allow myself to be fooled
To forget
To be soothed.
O Orpheus,
Why do you come
To dangle impossible dreams before me?
Why wake me from my sleepy haze
To feel the raw pain of choice,
To admit that I am dead?
To hold out a tantalizing offer
That with effort, trust,
And the grace of the gods
I might be alive
And fully aware again
To be reborn or not
What an agonizing choice

Someone made a false promise
When I was in
The Land of Trauma and Vulnerability.
I was given false hope.
I was made a promise that
They didn’t keep.
They didn’t honor their word.
They found out something in my life
That made them feel that
I don’t deserve to come out
Of the Land of Trauma and Hopelessness.
They dropped me back
Into the Valley of Death
Without even blinking an eye.

I am building my strength
Working out in the gym of life.
I will get myself out of my darkness.
No relying on some
Self-proclaimed superhero
To rescue me.
I’m no damsel in distress.
Well, yes, maybe in distress.
But I’m well on my way
To becoming my own
Knight in shining armor.

It’s ok to look back
Only if you find healing there.
I you find the pus and blood
Of trauma and pain,
Then hold your head up
And don’t look back.
Ugly unhealed memories
Only make you feel sorry for yourself.
You will break down slowly
And fall into the deep depression
Of the Land of the Dead.

How many times do I dare to trust
That the intentions behind
The sweet voice
And enchanting music
Are pure and true?
Rock star
Folk singer
Opera tenor
The style hasn’t mattered;
All swear they see me,
Hear me,
Understand me,
Appreciate me,
And will always honor me.
And then
I find myself in the land of the dead
And them on a stage
Singing to the gods
Not with me
But about me
For their own glory.

Time, space, history, legacies
Traditions, sufferings, healings
Disappointments, traumas
Cursings, blessings, favor
Joy, peace, despair, anxiousness
Diligence, steadfastness, enrichment
Comfort, rejoicing, gratitude
Thankfulness, loneliness
Weariness, newness
Refreshing of the soul
Of acknowledging
Any and all
Emotional and mental complexities
I am learning to relinquish
Let go
Many deep breaths
Of God’s refreshing spirit
New seasons
New beginnings
New ideas
Surface when there is room
Because the clutter from the past
Is gone.

Yes, I Rise!
Healing and deliverance
From my past hurt
Challenges, stigmas
Phobias, confusion, anxieties
Lightness, darkness
Both are healing elements
From God
Both give peace, rest
Falling, rising
River of forgetfulness
Fogs, confusions
Double mindedness
I embrace darkness
Only to rest and heal
I embrace light
To restore
There are good, positive people
Who are still helping
With the positive light and darkness
Yes, I continue to rise!

He found me in a fight
Me, a woman
Against a man
What a shame
He talked to me
He asked where I’d served
And my rank
And my name
He said he’d noticed me before
He was a veteran from Vietnam
And he told me to follow him
And that no one
Does it alone
I never imagined
How a life so alone
A life without win
Could turn so fast
On a dime
And bring me a home

My mind wants to turn
But my spirit says, “No.”
Before I could change
I’d have to let go
Of dreams
Of screams
Of memories
That devoured sick souls
With glee
Since I got locked in the Penn
I been thinkin’ a lot –
‘Bout life, death, and dope
I been flippin’ a lot
To put down a line
Like coke to help cope
Something sublime
Like the dopest of dope
But I can’t seem to find
A word to explain
The fuckin’ anger I feel
At this war of the world
Or war for the worlds
Or whatever it is
Got us worshipping gold
Mighty bold with our souls
Life is a song
It’s been a long time
Since my soldiering daze
Freedom ain’t come
The chains just got changed

Fifteen years after Air Force days were done
I sat on the curb
Three nights and three days
There I sat still
Three questions prevailed
“How did I get here?”
“Why didn’t I go?”
But mostly I wondered
“What is this feeling
down deep in my soul?”
Then reality struck!
I knew what it was!
I understood these people!
For the first time in my life
I wasn’t alone!
These were my people
From broken to bold!
For most of the next
Twenty long years
I stayed on
Where I belonged…

The land of the dead
Is not a dead end
I reunite with loved ones
Who have been taken from me
The river of forgetfulness
Cannot erase all memories
Connections surface
From deep in my soul
My mind may not recall
The details
But my heart responds
It flutters with a vague recollection
Something stirs and warms
Even in this place of darkness
Love can grow and flourish
I do not need to battle my way
Back to the land above
To be full and whole
Isn’t it a lesson
That as the tallest trees
Climb to the skies
Their roots make that ascension possible
By reaching down into the depths
Forming an anchor
A rich network of connections
As vast as the tree seen above ground
It is not all death in the darkness
Seeds can not germinate without it
Cocooned in its embrace
They build the strength to push
Both upwards and downwards
Oh to have the vision that sees
The necessity of both
And appreciate the perfect balance
Of dark and light

How ironic is it
That those who have had
“near death” experiences –
Been declared dead and then
Come back to life –
All remark on the light they see.
Deprived of life, breath, and light,
They speak of the brightest light,
Not glaring or harsh,
But loving and embracing.
So is the land of the dead
More glowing and bright
Than the land of the living?

You look at me
And think you see me,
Know me
But that person is long gone
Exists in your memories
But not in the here and now.
I was enticed
Then doomed by the snake
Holding out its lure
As Adam and Eve were tempted
Bit the apple
And were banished
From the Garden of Eden
I, too, “bit”
And was sent out, exiled
From the land of the living
Into the land of the dead
Where “Kill, Kill, Kill”
Cuts both ways
And no one wins
Do you think your love
Can bring me back?
Maybe the shell
But the darkness has
Sucked me dry
I may look like the same me
But there’s no real coming back.
Swirling fog of forgetfulness
Shadowy figures
Indistinct shapes
Numbing my senses
From the sharp,
Jagged-edged reality
Of having been snatched
From the happiest day of my life
And slammed into this place
My purpose and future
Torn away from me
O, Eurydice
We both cry out, “May Day, May Day”
As we plummet into
A land of darkness
In which neither of us
Expected to find ourselves
Better to forget
All that might have been
Than to be tormented
By it for all eternity

The happiest day of my life!
I’ve dreamed of this forever.
But in the blink of an eye
My world turned dark.
I heard there was some bargaining being done, but
Who would negotiate on my behalf?
In my darkness I found some joy
But was it enough joy?
In my darkness I found some peace
But was it peace without a price?
Of course not!
The peace cost my happiness
The price of the joy?
My strength
As I depended on someone else
To lead me to the light
I felt betrayed in the end.
A simple instruction – it was out of my hand
A simple task placed in the hand of one who…
Wasn't there for me.
Plunged back into darkness
Because my life was in someone else’s hand
And then I realized
I have the power!
I moved to my own light
Under my own power
No longer asking who would speak for me
I found my voice
No longer wondering how to navigate in the dark
I created my own light
No longer waiting for someone else
To rescue me
I rescued myself!

Take my hand
If not you’ll say
I don’t know where I’m going
But it’s this way
I’m smarter
I’m wiser
Much older
Much brighter
You’re young and dumb
Waste your life chasing fun
Just follow me
I stay in line
Soon your mind
Will be mine

Am I melting or is it you
So stuck I can’t move
My thoughts go crazy
They’re always racing
To tell me what to do
Hey there
Cut your hair
No, eat this
Another meal missed
I see the light
I must fight
To get out of this hole
That’s taken control
Of me

In all of her memories living life as if dead
Was a king who wasn’t a king
But something less and something more
Either way
He ruled her world with violence and darkness and lore
Shared with her father adored
Who wasn’t her father but something less
And something more
For he disobeyed laws of creation
And for advice gave witty rapport
A creature
Above the law by his own decree
Preferring the beat of his own arrogant heart
Over laws forged into stones
Still the girl loved and lived free
In her mind to escape in a beautiful dream
Filled with music and dance and allure
In another girl’s world that she kept in her mind
Where lived fine man whose song struck a chord
Who one day appeared in her little dark world
Singing surely she would see and would do
The dearest of dear of her dreams
His only
His Eurydice
He did swore
That she would live up in that world for many long years
And escape from her dungeon of fears
So she signed
And he lied
And she sighed
For in the blink of an eye she saw what fools and lawless men are
Destroyers who trust their own voices more
Than the truest truths found in life and the stars
Thus he ripped out all hope from her soul
As slowly she glanced down at her toes
And tripped
Remembering all that she’d known
Whereas once she had dreamed
She now mourned
In that place of forgetting what for
She’d been there before
It felt familiar and cold
And the very strangest of things did occur
Where dreams and screams of memories
Devoured sick souls with glee
Inside of that house made of string by a tree

36. Haiku
What I can’t recall
I am unable to miss
This blessed blankness

37. Haiku
All has been erased
The fog of forgetfulness
No torment or pain

38. Haiku
Spiders weave their webs
He makes me a room of string
Not trapped but so safe

He claims to be my father
Or a tree
But all I see is a porter
Slow to take my luggage
Hesitant to show me to my room
Kind but frustrating
Why does he insist on being with me
But not eager to do his job?
He stirs strange feelings in me
Vague sensations
He speaks a language others here don’t
And something in me responds
As if I had once visited his land
And learned some words in that foreign tongue
Whatever I call him
Whatever words we use
He feels like home
In this new and strange place