Monthly Archives: November 2012

Vector

Like an old phonograph wound down
I am living out of time,
an echo in the refrain of a song that
I cannot, now, recall.

My children on the other hand, are more modern:
they are billions of bits
scattered onto nets and copied point-to-point
with no apparent loss of resolution—
surely they will carry on that way forever.

This, then, is what it is to be a vector,
a force moving in a direction.
So consider: day has night, and light, dark.
But what has time got? Silence?
Well if so, then I am content,
let that be the vector of me:
stillness becoming silence becoming stillness…
in truth, that is all I ever wanted to be.

By training I am an engineer, so mathematical metaphors often sneak into my poetry. A vector is exactly as it is described in the poem, a force moving in a direction. Think of a wind blowing at 20 mph from the northeast—that is a vector.

Of all the spiritual truths that can be taught, I have come to believe that in this age of bling-bling consumerism, humility is one of the essential spiritual verities and perhaps even the most essential. With a posture of humility you can see the world for what it really is and not what it pretends to be and escape the madness that swirls around you.

Thank you for reading Vector. 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

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Long ago

I learned about praying
that Fast day at the Hazíratu’l-Quds
when a young Persian fellow BOOMED OUT
(scaring me, frankly)
a beautiful, long chant in a sweet melodious voice
full of heart and longing and humility.
It was, he said later,
a prayer that he had memorized as a child
extolling administrative centers
and he had waited all his life
to be in One to finally say it.
Every prayer since then,
every one—
heartfelt, tired, distracted, strained,
remembered, read or forgot;
offering, begging, failing, hoping,
hurried, kissed, forgiven or not;
healthy, sick, family, friend,
steadfast (but usually not)
happy, serene, content, forlorn,
begging, crying, dying—
I’m there
at that table
waiting for the boom again.

This incident took place in March, 1982 at the Headquarters of the administrative order of the Bahá’í  Faith in Canada.

When I say that that young man’s voice boomed out, scaring me, believe me, I’m not joking. But bigger than this surprise was the beauty of his chant. Persian or Arabic chanting done from the heart and done well by someone who has a beautiful voice and has been trained for it, is one of life’s great pleasures.

Two points: a “Hazíratu’l-Quds” (hoz-er-attal-couds) is the designation given to a building that acts as a center of Bahá’í administration. Also, the Bahá’í Fast is a 19 day period which occurs between the dates of March 2nd and March 21st, ending on the spring equinox; during this period adults are expected to abstain from eating and drinking from sunup ’til sundown.

Thank you for reading Long ago. 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

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012  by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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The magic of old New Orleans

In the heart of New Orleans is the French Quarter
and at its center is Jackson Square.
There on the steps of the Basilica,
and not just for the shuck of us rubes
goes on, unabated, the spirited commerce of lost souls:
tarot dealers and cursers in voodoo
faith healers and gazers into crystal,
they all vie for the right to sell you
the sweetest of illusions, control.
God on the one hand
and the devil on the other—
in New Orleans you’d be crazy
not to deal the one without the other.

Many years ago, my wife was invited to speak at a conference in New Orleans and we turned the trip into a short vacation to explore the city’s storied French Quarter. Built in the middle of a swamp, by the 1600s and through to the 1800s, New Orleans had one of the highest death rates in the world. Combined with the large number of slaves that were brought in from the West Indies and Africa, this gave birth to the Death Cult/black arts/voodoo worship/deep Catholicism aura that still haunts the city. Walk around there, you’ll feel it.

To “shuck” someone means to trick them out of their money. Those stolen from are often called “rubes.”

Thank you for reading The magic of old New Orleans. 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

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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The candle

How have you made me?
Say not, “With wax and wick and a taper trimmed.”
For I am light and I am heat,
I am an evening spent all alone
befriended by the memory of a scent.
And I am undone.
Your bright flame in my dark night
has unmade me, and in unmaking me,
has made me.
I, something, was nothing.
in becoming nothing, something, my essence,
to burn for you…
Some would call this sacrifice. Not me.

I am fascinated by the concept that true sacrifice—sacrifice made out of love—returns more than it gives up. The inspiration for the poem was a quotation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Head of the Bahá’í Faith for many years. The full text is here, from which I took this quote:

“…ye must die to yourselves and to the world, so shall ye be born again and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Behold a candle how it gives its light. It weeps its life away drop by drop in order to give forth its flame of light.”

What is our true destiny? That is the question the candle asks us. But where else would the light of truth and the heat of love come from, in this world, if not from us?

Thank you for reading The candle. 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

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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It truly doesn’t

I am empty, tell the questioning ones I cannot see;
I am replete, tell the answering ones I cannot hear.

Try this:
tell them to go and to live simply with what they now have.
Tell them to twirl and to hurt and to float arms open
crucified on hope and drifting on despair.

Ask them:
is that me, out there, circling somewhere?
Is that me, eyes open, past all the answers?
Is that me? really me? truly me?

I-don’t-know-leave-me-alone-I-don’t-care-it-doesn’t-matter,
it’s just how and just why and for now, just forever.

This poem stems from a comment that my dearest friend, Sam, made about how tired he was with people nagging him for answers and advice, yet not listening to him when he gave it. A human enough foible, no doubt, but wearisome and tiresome to deal with all the same, especially when you are under stress of your own.

The comment was very uncharacteristic of him and I knew that it was said only in temporary frustration. At the same time, it hit me hard, as I was feeling the same sort of thing in my own life, but was not able to articulate it, and it resonated with me. Love, speak, guide, offer, teach—but do not try to own the outcome. In the long run, you own only yourself.

Thank you for reading It truly doesn’t. 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

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Solo goes solo with nothing

My oldest penned a story
about Solo the duck
who flees the certain safety of his flock.
Only eleven and already he knows
what it is that I cannot teach him:
writing from the heart gives, at its best,
a truth that we must learn to live with.

So listen now son, this is for the future:
go ask the children,
go ask the mystics,
seek from the poets
and learn from your lovers;
leave no mother, no father, no sister, no brother,
no anyone left unimplored.
Because in the end, if you’re lucky,
they will all break your heart with love.
Solo goes solo with nothing.

This poem was inspired by my son, Balsam, who wrote a short story entitled Solo Goes Solo With Nothing. I was instantly charmed by both the title and the story and wanted to capture the moment in a poem. I am not sure if ducks do gather in flocks, and if they do, certainly not like starlings; but I am certain that eleven year old children generally think they do.

Thank you for reading Solo goes solo with nothing. 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

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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You Ulysses

Collectam ex Ilio pubem,
collectam exilio pubem.

A people from Troy,
a people for exile,
and all of us now lost lonely children.
You Ulysses, hero Ulysses,
you are the most wicked of all!
You call yourself a lover
but with your anger
you’ve built not one horse
but a thousand.
Now do you see
how you’ve breached the walls
you should have built to protect us?

Collectam ex Ilio pubem,
collectam exilio pubem,
gather us all we lost lonely children.

Depending on your background, collectam ex Ilio pubem/collectam exilio pubem (a people from Troy/a people for exile) is either a Latin grammatical mistake or a very good pun. Since the Romans thought of themselves as the surviving exiles from Troy, I thought of it as the start for a poem.

Homer’s epics The Iliad and The Odyssey (and the other fragments we have of the story—for example, the trick with the Trojan horse is not from Homer) are some of the oldest epic poetry we have and are so fundamental to our sense of cultural self that they are still a source of inspiration.

Being a parent is not easy, but everyone does as best they can. No parent is perfect and your ability is often a reflection of how you were raised as a child. So in the end, we are all, sometimes, lost, lonely children.

Thank you for reading You Ulysses. 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

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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