## A mathematical kōan

Imaginary numbers—‘i’ for short—are real,
the square roots of negative numbers;
impossible, true, but stay with me on this one
because now it’s getting personal.

But the biggest surprise is nothing: zero/nada/nil,
which is neither even nor odd
but more “what-it-is” than “what-it-is-not.”
And what it is, is an emptiness and a doubt,
an exhale so deep it becomes its own lasting misery
where you’re left hanging by your diminishing beliefs:
an odd looking for an even
or an even looking for an odd,
or an ‘i’, if that’s what wanders by.

Imaginary numbers are real, but not ‘real numbers’. Here’s the issue:

The square root of a number x is any number that when multiplied by itself () equals x. Thus, 2² = 4, and -2² = 4; or, put another way √4 = ±2.

Now think about -4. The issue is that -4 = -2 * 2 (or its reciprocal 2 * -2)  and -2 and 2 are different numbers, so √-4 has no solution. Not so fast! say mathematicians and engineers, who very effectively use (in the development of electronics, for example) “imaginary” or “i” numbers, where √-4 = 2i and 2i² = -4. Algebraically, that works, although there is no real sense to it. However, your electronic stuff built on the principle of imaginary numbers is, I promise you, very real. 🙂

Not that any of this matters; this is not a poem about mathematics, it is a poem about a paradoxical puzzle. (Either that or bad writing; you chose.)

Thank you for reading A mathematical kōan. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

Recently, I reviewed and archived all my poems on the Book of Pain. Some, I realized, were really two poems in one, this being such an example. The other portion of that original poem is posted separately as the poem First.

The photograph was taken in the Poconos of Pennsylvania; it is one of two ‘road’ images, one each for this poem and its sibling. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Filed under Poetry

## Fertile ground

It’s a blessèd thing
to dig, to grow, to weep, to reap,
but sometimes they surprise you:
because no matter how you sow
they just up and walk away,
not caring what they do or say
or how they hurt you when they go.

You want to wither—but you don’t—
that’s not how you were raised.
and keep on digging, keep on trying,
keep on crying over what you hope
is fertile ground, praying as you go.

Thank you for reading Fertile ground I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

Recently, I reviewed and archived all my poems on the Book of Pain. Some, I realized, were really two poems in one, this being such an example. The other portion of that original poem is posted separately and retains the title Do you know a gardener?

The photograph was taken in our garden. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Filed under Poetry

## Do you know a gardener?

Good loam to work your hands in,
back to ache, neck to burn,
exhaustion from planting and worrying.
Seed to plant, rain to come, life to hold on dear to:
sacred hope, quiet trust, troth to those before us.
Life growsthat’s a truthbut rarely as you’ve willed it,
and sometimes it’s the hope you’ve sown
that weighs the most when grown.

Thank you for reading Do you know a gardener? I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

Recently, I reviewed and archived all my poems on the Book of Pain. Some, I realized, were really two poems in one, this being such an example. This portion of that original poem retains the title; the other portion is posted as the poem Fertile ground.

The photograph was taken at a local farm. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

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## Shame at the grocery store

There were too many simple carbs in her cart,
too much fat, too many nitrates, too much salt—
and all of it bound up with too many additives
to keep everything “wholesome” and “fresh.”
Too few vegetables (and those canned)
no whole grains, no fruits, no greens,
and her toddler mixed in for minding.
Typical.

That child, for his part, was too demanding
of this too-fun thing and that too-treat thing
and had managed to fuss much of it into the cart.
But then his mother went full-on melt-down
and yelled at him to SHUT IT OR ELSE!
because she had to decide what to return,
there not being enough stamps on her EBT card.

Later, as I walked to my car
I saw her holding her child and weeping—
all-in, no-holds-barred, shaking and shuddering weeping.
I only tore my gaze away
when I saw the little boy’s eyes tracking mine.

It is my great fear that instead of eradicating racism in our society, we have bolstered it with its new flavor, classism. Ask any single, struggling mother of any color how our society treats her and you will hear stories that too eerily mirror the way visible minorities have always been—and are still being—treated. We were supposed to be getting better, not worse…

The events in this poem did not happen, at least when I was involved, but are still very much true-to-life.

Thank you for reading Shame at the grocery store. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in a local grocery store. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Filed under Poetry

## As should we all

The last combatant of the Great War died today.
There have been warriors who died before this,
others who will die hereafter
and some unborn who still await their turn.
Who knows?
Well, I do, for one.

Weep for him then, he was real. He lived and died
and ended a tale writ in the blood of those now forgot.
No story was his of tactics and strategies,
principles and beliefs, rights and wrongs done by.
No photograph, no letter, no film, no story,
no dead soul could tell that tale as did he, living.
Who knows?
Well, you do, for one.

No one can cry enough for them of a thousand fields
nor curse enough those who put them there.
There has never been a great war, let alone a good;
there have only been wars of rapacious intent—
botched before, botched during, or botched soon thereafter.
Who knows?
Well, we do, for one.

It’s not the courage, it’s not the strength,
it’s not the sacrifice, the honor or the glory.
It’s not the fear, the joy, the love or the loss,
the guilt, or the luck or the sadness.
It begins with obedience and it ends with endurance
and the rest be damned to hell.
Who knows?
Well, he did, for one.
Aye, weep.

November 11th, 2018 (Armistice Day in the US, Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth) marks the 100th anniversary of the cessation of combat of World War I, The Great War, The War to End all Wars. In memory of that event I am re-posting this poem.

The last combatant of World War I, Claude Choules, died on May 10, 2011. That news, when it broke, focused my thoughts on the great admiration and compassion I hold for those who fight at times of war, and how it is matched by my disdain for those who cause and pursue armed conflicts wantonly.

Thank you for reading As should we all. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in Warwick, Rhode Island. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

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## I’m jealous

How surprised I was to spot you
in that crowded old market in Barcelona!
Or, at least I thought it you, your twin if not.
I must say, you haven’t changed a bit.

I almost spoke to you, almost reached out
my arms to hug you, nearly asked what
you were doing here, so far from then.
But my Spanish isn’t, and you’d at least
have thought me crazy and may even
have had me arrested. And besides,
for all that happened after,
even if now I’d die to have it back.
You’re looking good, though. You are.

It happens to me with some regularity, usually in a foreign place: seeing a friend’s years-ago doppelganger walking towards me. And, well…

Thank you for reading I’m jealous. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in Barcelona on a recent trip there. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Filed under Poetry

## Comes an age

While cleaning, I shifted
the cutting board and found
a chocolate chip, an escapee
from our last batch of brownies.
We’d quit sugar sometime after that,
on the day we heard that Glenn had died,
the same day we understood
than first thought. Or maybe
it was the day we heard that
Amber needed surgery and that
we needed to pray, a lot.
I can’t remember.
Still, it was delicious.

As Phil, one of my dearest friends noted, this poem is about memory and immediacy, the “zigzag, random syntactical firing, following the shiny object, jumbled train of thought” thing we all go through. Sometimes I feel like I’m a squirrel trying to cross the road.

Thank you for reading Comes an age I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken for this poem in my home. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Filed under Poetry

## Linger a while—thou art so fair!

She wants to reach out, pick up the phone and call,
talk some and remember, laugh, cry and share.
She wants to turn it all back and remember the little things
that were the big things, and wonders if even now
they can still go there as can she. It’s not easy, or fair—
that’s life—but at least it could be together.

Paradoxically, she also wants to forget, to hold onto
what was her mom and not the hag she’s become,
but God, it is so very, very hard! And it’s late, and she’s tired,
and that phone just sits there, not ringing—no, never that—
but still, keeping her up with its infinite, sweet choices,
even though none of them, she suspects, is hope.

I love the title of this poem, even if I have taken it out of context. About the poem I will say no more, having said more of the story than I probably ought. But about the title…

Verweile doch! Du bist so schön! from Göthe’s Faust, is probably the most well-known and often quoted line in German literature. That 19th-century play deals with the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil for worldly gain. This passage, translated as Linger a while—thou art so fair! comes from the scene where Faust is sealing the deal and confirming that if ever he has a moment that is sublime and lingering, then at that instant the pact is complete and he will die and go to hell for eternity.

The full passage is:

Werd ich zum Augenblicke sagen:
Verweile doch! Du bist so schön!
Dann magst du mich in Fesseln schlagen,
dann will ich gern zu grunde gehen!

One translation is:

When I say to the Moment flying;
‘Linger a while—thou art so fair!’
Then bind me in thy bonds undying,
And my final ruin I will bear!

But that key line has many other interpretations, all of which I love:

Beautiful moment, do not pass away!

‘Ah, stay a while! You are so lovely!’

Do stay with me, thou art so beautiful!

And many, many more.

Thank you for reading Linger a while—thou art so fair! I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken last fall in our hometown of Putnam, CT on an early morning walk. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Filed under Poetry

## Hats did

Men cannot wear hats anymore.
Caps, yes, but caps are low brow,
a statement in a statement that no one
seems to care they are making.

But hats—men’s hats—they are the relic of
a choice that was once close and dear
but is now long and gone, lost forever.
No one sells them, no one knows how to block them
and nowhere, anymore, will you find racks to hold them.
And when men do try to wear them,
they never know when to remove them,
when to raise them and certainly not when to pull them down.
The art of it is clearly lost.

Still, they lasted longer than politeness,
you have to give them that,
if nothing else.

I struggled with just the word ‘politeness’ and wanted, in fact, to use ‘common politeness’ instead, mostly because ‘uncommon politeness’ (think of the famous who detest each other, but who still make nice for the cameras) seems to be alive and well. However, it never scanned properly and in the end, you have to go with what comes well off the tongue.

Thank you for reading Hats did. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Filed under Poetry

## A service I am now glad to repay

Patrick died in an alcoholic haze of shame, resentment, and relief,
wondering, I suspect, where along the path it had all gone wrong,
and when I needed it—but did not expect it—he had been kind to me.
He was my friend.

Do I know as little as he then—me, now, with all my memories?
And will I, like him, question myself down to the grave’s edge?
Yes, probably—we all have our Irish to carry, we poor debtors, we do.
So goodnight, friend Patrick, I am here for you, let it go and sleep well.
You earned it.

Many years ago, when I had just returned to Newfoundland from Africa, newly married and near broke, Patrick Kennedy hired me to a job that I loved and which set the course of my career. He was a jovial, friendly fellow (among other things, I recall we shared a love for Bruce Springsteen) who was always willing to talk, always willing to help, always quick with a laugh and a quip. To hear recently, after all these years, how bitter and tragic was his end saddened me very much.

John Waters is a well-known Irish journalist who got sober in 1989. He, better than anyone else, has captured the heart of what it is to be Irish:

“Drinking [to the Irish] is not simply a convivial pastime, it is a ritualistic alternative to real life, a spiritual placebo, a fumble for eternity, a longing for heaven, a thirst for return to the embrace of the Almighty.”

I grew up with alcoholics all around me and swore off drink when, at seventeen, I became a Bahá’í. For this and many things else, I have thanked God ever since. I know too well the devastation addiction brings.

Thank you for reading A service I am now glad to repay. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in my home in Connecticut. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john