PTSD Survivor Poetry by Karen Petersen

In our ongoing celebration of National Poetry Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, a poem by Karen Petersen….


As a combat photojournalist and foreign correspondent I used to fly in everything from C130s to crop dusters in order to get around. Many of the airlines I flew on were the butt of jokes since they had so many safety issues but there were no other choices and I was immune to fear. I enjoyed it! I loved the power of take off and landing, and the beauty of being up in the clouds like a god. But after my injuries and PTSD, flying became filled with irrational intrusive thoughts of sudden death: a mid-air collision, a wheel falling off, and so on, and one day I found myself writing this poem in order to cathartically externalize what I was going through.  It did help somewhat, although I still get the willies on take off.


Breaking out
in a cold sweat
from 30,000 feet,
I imagine
bodies falling
through torn skies.
The air
is a benevolent
blue, the earth
hard and distinct.

I jump
at the unheard,
heart racing,
while others
do the crossword
and doze.
I cannot control
an engine stalling,
pitching us
down into
the wheat fields

Outside is a
quivering red
as we begin
rubber on concrete,
engines screaming.
Then heartbeat slowing,
plane on the ground:
the bearable truth.

KAREN PETERSEN, adventurer, photojournalist and writer, has traveled the world extensively, publishing both nationally and internationally. Most recently, her poem, “Patagonia, ” was published in The Saranac Review. She is currently at work on Four Points on a Compass, a collection of her poems from overseas. She lives in New York.
Link to other work:


The ideas contained in this post solely represent the perspective of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele.


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