It’s theirs, after all, and paid for

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Her cement block chapel is deep in the barrio.
There she rests behind glass, a century long gone,
a pious soul, dried and shriven, mummified
by some quirk of the grave and brought back
for the pilgrims who flock to see her.
For her upkeep there is a donation box
off to the side, which more than covers
the votives that are lit and left on the rail
to weep out their visits for them.

She cried the river that runs down to the sea,
to guide the  fishermen home,
says one, crossing
himself. No, says another. When the sun could not
come out, it was she who swallowed the night.
No, no,
says a third, the town had grown wicked,
and there was no wind strong enough to clean it.
With one exhale, she quickened the air and then,
the bread of the poor would leaven again.

They nod as one. Yes, yes, they say, we have
heard this too. God bless her, it must be true.
What would we do without her?

She is especially busy on All Hallows, of course,
the Feast of All Saints, when prayers for the dead
are the most potent. Many come to pray and more
are the candles lit and left with her in the hope
of lighting her way to the granting of their wish.
They come and go, these penitents, not staying
long, but they are solemn, these ones, hopeful
and confirmed. Some few even sneak little balls
of wax from the rail when they depart,
although to what purpose,
I do not know.

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I found this story of a pious and sweet soul who died in the 1920’s becoming a local shrine in The Petrified Woman of Capiz by PenPowerSong, and was so intrigued by it that I asked his permission to write a poem from it.

The facts of the story stand true. The second stanza and the air of the  story are completely my interpretation of these facts. The last sentence is almost directly from the original source and is what drew me to the idea of a poem in the first place.

Thank you for reading It’s theirs after all, and paid for. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken on Hope Street in Providence, Rhode Island, on a spring jaunt that my wife and I had down that wonderfully eclectic street. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

 

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Ian Hamilton’s “The Visit”

They’ve let me walk with you
As far as this high wall. The placid smiles
Of our new friends, the old incurables,
Pursue us lovingly.
Their boyish, suntanned heads,
Their ancient arms
Outstretched, belong to you.

Although your head still burns
Your hands remember me.

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I have, for some time, been championing Ian Hamilton’s poetry on my blog, mostly because there are no collections of his work in print. This poem is most probably about visiting his wife in a mental health institution and presumably after she has had some sort of shock treatment. Wistful, terse, gentle in the setup of a light touching moment, brutal in its honesty of the reality and tragedy of love, a dam of regret and sorrow barely held back. To me, this is classic Hamilton, and one can only stand back in awe at the world of being he sketches in only a few lines.

Click here for a list of the other Ian Hamilton poems on the Book of Pain.

For more on Ian Hamilton, I refer you to: his Wikipedia page.

Thank you for reading Ian Hamilton’s “The Visit”. 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.

john

Comments © 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved.

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Him, you, them

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He made me fall in love with him
and then he got me hooked.
He got clean,
I couldn’t,
he left.
Funny, huh?

 

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This poem, with very little editing, is based on a postcard I saw at PostSecret.com, a site where people anonymously mail in their secrets. I was at first struck with the simple, yet powerful rhythm of it, but then, clearly, the issue: on the one hand it is brutally honest to the reader, but on the other, brutally self-deceiving for the writer; notice how she refuses ownership of her issues. No wonder she cannot get clean. She is pitiable, but lost to everyone until she finds herself.

 

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

The photograph was taken at the Boston Commons subway stop. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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There, but for the grace of God…

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Will-o’-the-wisp, trick of the eye,
why this, why that, why me?
Philosophers ponder, priests conjure
and physicists wander (wherever it is
they wander when they wonder):
what is it, this ‘is it’, ‘to be’?
Me, I have this nagging sense
that if you can pose an answer,
you’ve missed the question altogether.

 

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I am reading Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt. It is a fascinating book and I am enjoying it immensely. In a practical sense, the question seems as relevant as the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, but let’s be honest: no one ever said that metaphysics had to make practical sense. (Just don’t say that to anyone who has got themselves caught up in the topic. It can get ugly and very, very boring.)

What fascinates me is the range of responses from a wide variety of disciplines and the degree of passion aroused in the answers. And throughout it all, as much as I am enjoying the journey for an answer—because let’s face it, there are no definitive answers, just definitive opinions—I do have this nagging feeling that whenever it comes to something that is really important, that there is hiding, off to the side, at 90 degrees from where we are looking, the real question and answer that we should be pondering. There are times when, while I cannot see it and I cannot say it, still I know it’s there, in the corner of my eye, and I almost have it, but not quite, not quite…

The quotation, There but for the grace of God, go I, is attributed to John Bradford, an English protestant jailed by the Catholic Mary Tudor, and  was said as he watched a group of prisoners being marched off for execution. His own turn was coming, however; he was burned at the stake on July 1st, 1555.

Thank you for reading There but for the grace of God… I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in Pennsylvania and is the reflection of a tree in water. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

 

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Hope Marse Robert’ll speak up for me

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Was near there at the end, I recall, we was hungry,
hadn’t et for days, but’d marched light and dark,
never sleeping more’n minutes, scootin’ it for
the Carolinas so’s we could keep up the fight
in the wrinkles of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Good God it rained, but it rained! Every river
was swollen and most flooded. We was cold
and no one had boots left, socks even, just
bloodied soles. At the last, them Yankees
came at us like dogs who’d worried their hunt
to a hole and it was close and hot there for a while.
I recall puttin’ my piece to the back o’ the head
of one of them blue coats and pullin’ the trigger.
After all them years I can tell you my charges
never failed, no matter how wet or cold it got.
As he fell I realized t’was my best friend, the one
what had convinced me to sign up with him.
‘Spite what the officers had told us, he had took
the coat off’n a dead Yankee days ago rather than
worryin’ t’freeze t’death. I left that blue coat
on him as I tucked him in and pulled the dirt blanket
o’er his head, so’s he could sleep warm that night.
Now, looking back, I wonder, when I go too, will I
be sleepin’ warm? I don’t doubt I ought, I don’t.

 

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This is the final of two poems dealing with the American Civil War that were inspired by reading Killing Lincoln. I recommend that any non-Americans who aren’t quite as familiar with this war, read the explanation accompanying that first post, Sailor’s Creek, as a quick background to understand the key roles of that conflict.

Even after reading that first post, here are a few further notes:

1) Marse (short for ‘Master’) Robert was a term of deep affection Lee’s troops used to refer to him.

2) Lee’s plan after quitting Petersburg and the fall of the Confederate capital of Richmond was to escape to the Carolinas, where support for the Confederacy was high, there to fight a guerrilla war from the easily defended Blue Ridge Mountains. His retreat, however, was betrayed by Confederate looters who stole the army’s rations. The route was also eventually cut off by Grant, forcing Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

3) While, in fact, both sides wore a variety of colors in their uniforms, generally the Confederate South (the ‘Rebels’) wore gray and the Union North (the ‘Yankees’) wore blue. Certainly, the grays and the blue coats became standard terms used by both sides to refer to themselves and each other.

4) This story is real in so far as it is historically correct and it is recorded that on at least one occasion a Confederate soldier in the last few days of battle killed his best friend because that friend, like many others and against orders,  was wearing a coat stolen from a dead Northern soldier. The rest of the story, and especially the fear of the fires of hell, is my invention.

5) To be honest, I have no idea if I have authentically caught the patois of the Virginian accent, or just done a poor job of imitating a Hollywood version of that accent. But from the start it was clear to me that the poem had to be told in the first person and modern rules of diction just wouldn’t do. The point is that the soldier was a rustic from a rustic time, dealing with a terrible conditions and burdened by a horrendous act of guilt. That, I hope, still emerges. The word ‘et’ in the second line means ‘eaten.’

6) The ‘piece’ referred to by the speaker would have been his front-loaded musket rifle. Repeating Spencer rifles with modern bullets were introduced at the very end of the war, but only in the North and in very limited supply. By far the most common weapon for both sides was a long-barreled musket, where the gunpowder charge was loaded from the front, then a lead bullet and the whole tamped into place by a rod; an explosive cap was then placed under the hammer. Keeping your powder cartridges and caps dry and being able to perform quick re-loads, even in damp conditions, was the sign of a professional soldier. By this stage of the war, both sides were very, very good at doing this because if a soldier wasn’t, he was long dead.

Thank you for reading Hope Marse Robert’ll speak up for me. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at a Civil War re-enactment at Williamsburg, Virginia. The actors were a Southern troop of artilleryman and my standing so close to get that shot meant several hours of ringing ears from the one round they let off. What a real battlefield was like I can hardly, and do not really want to, imagine. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

 

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Mahvash Sabet’s “The Prayer of the Tree”

Mahvash Sabet is a Bahá’í prisoner of conscience currently serving an unjust 20 year sentence in Iran. Read more of her story here.

The Prayer of the Tree

That hapless tree that sat through all the winter months out there
naked in the snow and ice, it’s shivering branches bare,
broken, wind-torn, bleak and dreary,
bent by the changing seasons, weary,
has finally had an answer to its prayer.
See how the kind Creator full of loving care
has decked it in new garments, fresh and rare!
Have you seen how green it is at last, how finally dressed, how fair?

 

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Can one not but be amazed that anyone, sick and unjustly imprisoned for their faith, could still find the tenderness and gentleness in their heart to write such a delicate and joyous poem? Shame to the Iranian authorities for such an injustice!

Please consider purchasing Mahvash Sabet’s poetry as an act of solidarity in the fight for human rights: in the US, from Amazonin the UK, directly from the publisher.

john

This English edition of The Prayer of the Tree is ©2013 by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, who adapted the original Persian text into English; all rights reserved.

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Héloïse Haven’s “Parched”

The old wooden bucket plunges deep into the well,
The weathered staves bound by rings once bronzed.
Dangling from the old frayed rope,
It sways with each turn of the tired crank.
Deeper still, wafts of staleness drift upward
Until the small splash echoes laggardly.
The rusty lever groans as it begins the ascent,
Tired and worn from a life of long hauls.
One last crank to reach the light,
The shaft hesitates, the rope wavers,
The weary bucket crashes down.

 

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Héloïse  is a dear friend who has been, thus far, reluctant to publish her very fine poetry. I am hoping by seeing her poem here that she will be convinced to start her own blog and publish more of her work.

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

john

Poem © 2014 by Héloïse Haven; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License..

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