Monthly Archives: December 2012

Too close for comfort

It’s not just a word, it’s a gulf,
not just a step but a fall.
And it’s not just a touch, it’s a life,
a life to be lived when it’s gone.
So rue us for being us
with our hearts bound up long ago
and our coffee made more bitter
with tears: too proud to remember,
too silly to forget
and too us to understand.
Rue us.

Thank you for reading Too close for comfort. 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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Tierney Tolar’s “Seasons”

My favorite season is winter and summer.
I like those two seasons because
summer is where you can do anything
and winter is where you can
build a snowman
and you can get into a snowball fight.

Having the greatest family

I’m having the greatest time of my life
and the greatest year, the funnest week ever
with grandma and grandpa and aunt Sasha
and my sisters and brother and parents.
I have the sweetest family ever.
Everyone cares about each other
and everyone even loves each other.
Family is important too.

Christmas trees

Christmas trees are fun to put ornaments on
(and lights of course)
and it’s pretty when you turn the lights on.
Christmas trees are to put presents under.
You can put the Christmas tree anywhere you want to.
I’m following Santa Claus tonight.
Santa is watching you…he loves cookies.

Cupcakes

It’s fun when you make cupcakes.
They are yummy, they are fun and they are cute
if you decorate them.
It’s just fun.
You can decorate them however you like
and you can even make a background too.
If you want.

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I get to introduce you to a singular, new and powerful voice in the world of poetry: my granddaughter, 8 year old Tierney. We, Tierney and I, but also her grandmother, father, mother, aunt, brother and sisters are together this Christmas.

Thank you for reading Seasons and all of Tierney’s poems. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed them and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2012 by Tierney Tolar; all rights reserved. These poems and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Until we’re all together again

I want a Christmas with my mom and dad
and sister home from school.
I want to go out and cut down the Christmas tree
and argue, once again, about putting the decorations up
because—good Lord!—who can ever get enough of that?
I want to go buy the presents that I’ve worried over
and dithered over and saved over and agonized over
(and then agonized over some more)
until I glow with the knowledge that each is perfect
and is exactly what they wanted, or needed,
or will want or will need or at least say that it is so.
But before the new clothes at midnight
and Mass and the choir and the cold,
before cracking the Gordon’s London Dry Gin
(to get the good children to go to bed)
I want to wait, just wait in the darkness
and sit there, looking at the lights
and listening to my mom’s favorite carols,
letting it all float around me
just as it did those many years ago…
every mayhem filled, loud, laughing, wrapping,
poking, hiding, opening, crying, cooking, praying,
yelling (and of course yelling back)
drinking, eating, talking, card playing and arguing
moment of it, joyfully, once more.

I wrote this poem in 2012 as a present to my sister, Cindy, and my father, Jack. Alas, my mother, May, is passed on and is no longer with us.

Christmas was a magical time for my family. What I wanted to capture was the joy and love that I grew up with. Our house was always chaotic but also a place of refuge, security and love. I no longer remember many of the presents that I received back then, but I will always remember the joy of being together.

Everything in the poem, is true: my sister and I arguing over putting up decorations, agonizing over getting the ‘perfect’ gifts, going to midnight mass and singing in the choir, coming home and opening the gin to make a pitcher of Tom Collins, a gin based-drink. For my sister and me it was made sweet and mild, just strong enough to calm excited children down. I was married with children before I realized the purpose of that drink was my parent’s sneaky way of getting us into bed!

But it is the music of the season and the lights on the tree that I remember the most. Well, that and being together. That’s no longer always possible but it is always the best thing I remember in my young life.

Thank you for reading Until we’re all together again. 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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On this bridge, as far as I can see

Out of control, whirligig,
one round, two rounds, three rounds stop—
the road a blur of nothing having happened at all.
Except (in a right world)
I’d be dead in the river below
instead of up here on the bridge
needing a smoke so bad
I thought I’d eat the pack.

But isn’t that the truth of it?
Because that’s when they find you the hardest,
those pesky, insolent things
those principles of your certainty.
Eventually they catch up with you and stumble you
like dozens of tiny hooks
bowing humbly at your feet,
each pointing their little barbs straight up:
icy roads and too much speed,
truth and honor and lies—
and you ask yourself as you sit there,
why did I ever think
I could get away with that?

In 1981 I was working as the site engineer at the construction of a gas transmission plant that I had designed in northern Alberta, Canada. Being December in northern Alberta, and especially then in the 80s, that meant that the world was made up of cold, ice and snow, and after that more cold, ice and snow.

That day was the last working day for the Christmas Holiday; we wouldn’t be back to the site until after the New Year. I was the last to leave and start down the rural, dirt road that had been cut into the forest to where the plant was located. I was en route to my apartment in Calgary in southern Alberta, but foolishly, while my friends in northern Alberta knew I was going south for the holidays, my friends in the south did not know when to expect me, if at all; I hadn’t really shared my plans with them.

Being excited at the thought of the vacation, I did not take into account what I was doing until I crested an icy hill. I am going way too fast, I thought, and I was. Going down the other side I had to tap my truck’s brakes to have any hope of making it around a bend at the bottom of the hill heading to a bridge that was over  a 20 foot drop to a rocky, fast and icy cold river below. When I did I instantly lost control. I can’t remember if or how I fought for control of the vehicle, but I do remember ending up swinging around in lazy circles in the exact same spot in the middle of a bridge—three times—and stopping looking exactly in the direction I should be going. How I wasn’t in the river below I still don’t know. After a few minutes, and yes, a cigarette or two (I’ve since quit) I put the truck in gear and drove on, slowly, shaken and thinking of what could have just happened, but didn’t.

To quote a favorite prayer: I beseech Thee to aid and assist me at all times and under all conditions, and seek from the heaven of Thy grace Thine ancient favor.

Thank you for reading On this bridge, as far as I can see. 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 quilt

Fashioned from the multicolored, tattered, rag-ends of cloth
the tiny, odd little pieces are sewn on the straight seam—
shifted, spun, moved about and fitted—
stitch by stitch, patch by patch,
the pattern repeated over the larger whole.

A quilter is a lover who sees not the plan but the fact
and slowly calls the dream forth from naught but
the meanest scraps of nothingness,
binding them together so that in the end
it grows
to wrap the whole earth around, safe,
as it sleeps in the arms of eternity.

A very dear Bahá’í friend was ill for several years suffering from debilitating migraines. During tha illness she still managed, with her mother’s help, to produce a stunningly beautiful quilt into which she poured the emotional experience of being so sick. I was particularly drawn to the small reflective circles that she had scattered into the design to designate the explosions of light that would go on in her head when the migraines were at their worst.

For the first time in my life I contemplated just how hard making a quilt must be—working from the simplest of elements to bring forth objects of beauty. It is hard work requiring patience, planning and a sense of assurance that by the end of the project the design while meet the vision. A thing I call ‘faith.’

Thank you for reading The quilt. 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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Sullivan Ballou letter

Not a poem today, but a letter that is the essence of love and sacrifice. Written during the American Civil War, it is by Sullivan Ballou, a Major in the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers and to his wife Sarah, at their home in Smithfield, RI. I first heard it in the award winning Public Broadcasting Systems (PBS) series The Civil War by Ken Burns.

July 14, 1861
Camp Clark,
Washington DC

Dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. And lest I should not be able to write you again I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I am no more.

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but omnipotence can break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly with all those chains to the battlefield. The memory of all the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you, that I have enjoyed them for so long. And how hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes and future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and see our boys grown up to honorable manhood around us.

If I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I loved you, nor that when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name…

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless, how foolish I have sometimes been!…

But, 0 Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, I shall always be with you, in the brightest day and in the darkest night… always, always. And when the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool air your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again…
——————————————————————————–

Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the 1st Battle of Bull Run.

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Salt of the earth

Persians say that a salad is best made
by a miser pouring the vinegar,
a rich man drizzling the oil
and a crazed man heaping on the garlic.
What I got was a sweet man
who sprinkled every grain of salt he owned,
joyously, on everyone’s plate.

This story comes from a Bahá’í conference that took place in Bukavu, Rwanda, a town along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or what was then called Zaire. The main conference meal consisted of salad greens, roast goat, beans and manioc, the local term for the cassava tuber from which tapioca is derived. (Most Westerners don’t like manioc, but I developed a bit of a taste for it. But I’ll eat anything, so this was not surprising to my family.)

He was an elderly gentleman who, with a radiant heart, shared with us what we worried was just about all he owned, his bag of salt. As I look back on that day, I will never forget the look on his face or how he smiled as he sprinkled the salt on everybody’s plate. His face was lit so joyously and he acted with such generosity that all we could do was humbly accept his kindness.

Thank you for reading Salt of the earth. 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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