Monthly Archives: January 2013

Straight for the heart

A big old door with a new, little latch:
the delusion of security
under the ugly of reality,
such is life.
If you sit behind a door, afraid,
you’ve already been beaten.
Buy a gun and be done with it.

I am no gun-toting, “a pistol in every hand and an AK-47 in your underwear” supporter. I loathe all guns of all types and all eras—pistols, rifles, and phasers—almost as much as I loathe the violence-prone society that we have become and from whence such implements of destruction come.

My point is, don’t be a victim. And don’t especially be an emotional victim. Fearing for your safety in domestic disputes is an ugly reality that all too many women, children, men (yes, men) and elders live with. But putting a small latch with four small screws on an old door frame does not buy security, it gives you the delusion of security. If you really live in fear, be realistically and fully committed to a workable protection plan. And whatever that plan is, be ready with it, be ready to implement it, implement it when it is necessary and don’t look back afterward with any regrets.

Thank you for reading Straight for the heart. 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

© 2013 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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Zodiac

The planets, the moons, the stars,
what a desperate set they make!
They turn, they wheel, they dice, they deal
and never do they know
how easy it is to slip by them—
to deny them—to just go on and ignore them.
Each night it’s the same, if you’re lucky,
to the right and straight on ’til morning.

The astute of you will pick up on the Peter Pan reference: “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.”

People think they are in control of their lives, but they are not. People are in control of their actions, but the forces that impinge on us are beyond our ability to control, coerce, and often, understand.

The source of all good is trust in God and contentment with His holy will and pleasure.

That does not mean that people are not responsible for their actions. But so much of life is beyond that limited degree of control. Illness, the way people appreciate your efforts, the way they treat you…you may be able to influence such things in a positive direction, but you cannot force them to be what you want.

And in some tragic ends, there are those who even chose the hardest and saddest of all options: opting out.

Thank you for reading Zodiac. 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

© 2013 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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I am not here, but I will always be there

I would wish you to come and see me
but now you cannot. Those fools thought me made
of wood, brick, and plaster
and adorned with carpets, paneling, and a lamp.
But I am made of faith, will, and testament
and adorned with the hearts of those who
circle around me!

The House of the Báb, located in Shíráz, Iran, was where the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith, the Báb, first declared Himself to His first follower, Mullá Husayn in 1844. This poem gives voice to that building and its story.

Its significance in the Bahá’í Faith is tremendous, even beyond its historical importance; it has been designated by Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, as a place of pilgrimage, indeed the central place of pilgrimage for the Bahá’í Faith.

Although at one point in the mid 1880s the House had fallen into disrepair when occupied (and nearly stolen) by non-Bahá’ís, it was restored to prominence in the late 1890s and re-occupied by the Widow of the Báb, Khadijih Bagum. Then in 1905 it was again re-modeled and put back into exactly the same configuration and decor as it had been in 1844 at the time of the Declaration of the Báb. Interestingly, this was done by the last person alive who had intimately known the house at that time and just prior to his passing. Below is a photograph of the refinished room where the Declaration took place. It is paneled and opulently furnished with a beautiful Persian carpet and a lamp in the exact spot where the Báb sat on that famous night. These are the adornments referred to in the poem.

Room in the House of the Báb where the Declaration took place.

Room in the House of the Báb where the Declaration took place.

Unfortunately, the House of the Báb often drew the enmity of the fanatical populace, especially when incited by the equally fanatical clergy, and the building was often attacked. One such time was particularly bad in 1955. Then in 1980 during the post-Khomeini era when the clergy first became the government, the building was illegally seized, razed to the ground and the lot paved over. This event also coincided with the martyrdom of ten Bahá’í women of Shíráz, one of whom was the 17 year old Mona Mahmudnizhad, who asked to be hanged last so that she could support the others if they needed it.

The building itself may be gone but it still exists in the hearts and minds of Bahá’ís the world round. There it will stay until it can be re-built in the fullness of time.

Thank you for reading I am not here, but I will always be there. 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

© 2013 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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Richard Blanco’s “One Today”—Inaugural Poem, 2013.01.21

One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

— from One Today, the poem by Richard Blanco, read by the author during the 2nd Inauguration of President Barack Obama, January 21, 2013. See the full poem here.

I am not  in any grave risk of being asked by a future President of the United States to write an inaugural poem. Good thing, because I cannot imagine what I would say. It is the largest poetic platform in the world and a poem read there is automatically slated to be famous (if good) or infamous (if bad) and often both.

The inaugural poem tradition was started by Robert Frost in 1961, when at the invitation of President J. F. Kennedy he read his The Gift Outright. Not an easy act to follow.

But Richard Blanco did, and did it well. One Today is a beautiful poem, honest, upbeat, not too sentimental. It has a strong heartbeat and an honest pace.

Bravo!

john

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The circle

The edge is divisible
in the many to the whole,
the total where you are from
and where you will go;
the infinite, graceful arcs wrap the center,
proclaiming their love to the heart.

To God that I was so perfect!

The 360° in a circle is evenly divisible by many numbers, nine out of the first ten, for example. (The exception is seven.) But it is the perfection of the circle surrounding its focal point that attracts me to it as a metaphor.

Thank you for reading The circle. 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

© 2013 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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The next after another

On the darksome trail of this black ledge
I am blind,
but that is what I feel, isn’t it—
the next step?

If on the rough scrabble shale
I slip and fall,
that is what I bleed, isn’t it—
the step back?

I am as lost on this path
as I am bound to it,
but that is what I am, isn’t it—
the lockstep?

Against the cliffs my noise-some heart
echoes wrongly,
but that is what I hear, isn’t it—
the step up?

And now? Now I’m just tired
‘either/or’ ‘stop/go’
but that is what this is, isn’t it—
the final step?

My wife and I were driving to a Bahá’í conference when I noticed a hand painted sign off to the side of the road which said “Black Ledge” and an arrow pointing off in a direction. It was both incongruous and odd; why would anyone point to a black ledge?

It struck a chord with me and I linked it up with a conversation I had previously had with my dearest friend and brother-in-heart, Sam, about service to humanity. Such service is an essential aspect of being human and yet it is not easy, nor does one pursue it without pitfalls and aches. Moreover, it can be wearisome and tiring, not the least of which because it can often fall on deaf ears and cold hearts. Yet, still it is important to continue and pursue such work, because you do it not just for the recipients, but for yourself, to learn humility and patience.

To learn humility and patience. That is my dear Sam in a nutshell.

Thank you for reading The next after another. 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

© 2013 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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In the wind

She moves, I think, through haunted air distractedly,
while everyone, madcap, breezes by,
quit now of worry and missing her hopes
that lie thick all around, gasping.
But what breaks her heart is, I fear,
what left her for dead in the first place,
so I pray
that it’s not over—and yet it is,
that it’s not over—say what you will,
that it’s not over—you are not drifting,
I will stand with you wherever you land.

A major life changing crisis is a difficult thing to survive and manage. The feelings and emotions are so intense and the risks so very real. But once it is over—well that’s the question, isn’t it—is it ever really over?

Certainly from the viewpoint of people on the outside of the event there may come a time when, for them, the crisis is past and life returns to normal. But for the person at the apex of the crisis it continues to be not just what they went through, but what in the end it means to them going forward.

Such were my thoughts when thinking about a dear friend who had gone through such an event. I instinctively knew there would come a time when the world would carry on, but that that was the precise moment when she would be at her most vulnerable, when she would most need a friend to tell her that she was loved and that she would be supported when she needed it. Someone who was not, “Thank God that’s over, ” because it is, but it isn’t.

I remember my friend telling me that she did not want her crisis to be the event that defines her; she was more before it happened and would be more after. And yet, how can you not review your life, review where you are, review where you’ve been, think about where you are going, after a crisis?

In the end, no matter how much you empathize, no one can understand more than the person who is living it, what they have been through and what it means. But what you can do is pledge to be there for them, whenever and however and whatever they need. You cannot live someone’s pain, but you can always help them live it and survive it. That is what friends do.

Thank you for reading In the wind. 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

© 2013 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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And so we will

The shadowed morning trail of hearts and scents,
touching…
the salts of hellos and the salts of goodbyes,
reaching…
mirrors to me, mirrors to you,
whispering…

In the days and in the nights,
in our movement and in our stillness
there are quiet words yet aplenty to be said.
But not now, not tonight, not tomorrow, not yet,
let the echoes fall where they will.

I wrote this poem when I was spending a lot of time traveling. At the time, Lyn and I were just married and the thought, and fact, of being away from her were hard. It still is on the rare occasion that I travel without her.

Thank you for reading And so we will. 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

© 2013 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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Seven rocks in the garden

I arranged in the garden, one rock each for the Seven of Tehran.
The first, the most beloved, rained down God’s mercy and
cooled the fired-up throng;
the second, clasping his brother’s corpse to his heart
rooted out their tongues with a poem;
the third in thanks shared sweets with his killer,
while the fourth scorned a rescue of lust and power.
The rest vied for the right to prepare the way, the one each for the other,
and so they died as they lived—united—chimed by a single blow.

But in truth, I lied to you,
it was eight rocks I arranged in the garden.
The last was a small, sharp-edged stone,
barbed on the top, cold to the touch
and set deep dark down in the loam.
I dig it up occasionally
to see if it is still there. It always is,
ground no smoother by its journey
but soldiering on as best it can,
trying to be patient, trying to be quiet,
trying to hear the call of its brothers.

This poem was written for the Seven Martyrs of Tehran, a group of prominent Bábis who were executed in Tehran, Iran, in February 1850. (The Bábi Faith was a precursor to, and evolved into, the Bahá’í Faith.) Their story is steeped in tragedy and beauty, and is remembered with great love and gratitude by the Bahá’í Faith today.

The seven heroes died fearlessly, willingly, content that their self-sacrifice was the noblest act they could perform for their Beloved. In dying, they were both humble in their poise and grateful in their hearts.

The significance of their public sacrifice cannot be overstated: they clearly represented the best that that society had to offer from both the clerical and merchant classes: men, who by the lofty standard of their conduct and the purity of their lives were recognized as outstanding citizens, honest, humble and trustworthy. Such, saw the people that day, were the souls that this new Faith attracted and which the current regime condemned. And while at first the general public were glad—near rabid glad—to see such paragons of wealth and power torn from their lofty heights for their base enjoyment, the demeanor and graciousness of the Seven Martyrs of Tehran soon stole the circus-like atmosphere from the crowd and proved to them what was being lost. The mob then went on to be not just abashed by the executions, but to become sympathetic to the Martyrs and their Cause and angry with those who had set up the spectacle for their gratification. Even one of the executioners was not immune to this effect: he left his post in shame and lived the remainder of his life in remorse for having participated in the act.

Mullá Husayn, another Bábi spiritual hero and martyr, Himself presaged the degree of sacrifice that would be necessary for the new Faith to flourish. Speaking in Tehran He had said, years earlier, “Our duty is to tell everyone about this New day. Many people will die for this Cause in this very city. But that blood will water the Tree of God, will cause it to grow, and shelter all people in every part of the world.”

The Seven Martyrs of Tehran were:

1) Haji Mirza Sayyid ‘Ali, the maternal uncle and guardian of the Báb, Founder of the Bábi Faith.
2) Mirza Qurban-‘Ali Barfurushi, a well-known mystical leader who enjoyed renown throughout Iran and included among his many admirers the mother of the Shah.
3) Haji Mulla Isma‘il Qumi, a trained Islamic cleric who had studied in Qum, Najaf and Karbala;
4) Aqa Sayyid Husayn Turshizi, whose youth, beauty, and demeanor dazzled the Shah’s representative to the executions; Aqa Sayyid Husayn was a mujtahid, an Islamic scholar, who had studied in Khurasan and Najaf and claimed that day the right to discourse with the most learned of the city to establish the truth of the Bábi Faith. He was refused.
5) Haji Muhammad-Taqi Kirmani, a well known Bábi merchant and a close friend to the uncle of the Báb, the first Martyr of the Seven.
6) Aqa Sayyid Murtada Zanjani, also a merchant and a brother of a martyr of another group of spiritual heroes, who died at a fort called Shaykh Tabarsi.
7) Aqa Muhammad-Husayn Maraghi’i (or Tabrizi), a servant of, and close friend to, Haji Mulla Isma‘il Qumi, the third Martyr of the Seven.

Thank you for reading Seven rocks in the garden. 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

© 2013 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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Patrick (plus also Marian Burnett’s “After Seven Years”)

Patrick didn’t wait for me,
how like him to go on first, alone.
He was, to me, the essence of touch
made into flesh and bone—
his laughter, robust and yet so light,
had a way of bursting out
and rising up through the hole in your heart
and resting there, lingering long after
the echoes had departed.
I confess I can’t quite grasp it yet,
wherever did the time go?

It was as if the jingle-jangle
got to be too much for him
and now, here in free fall, I wonder
what it was I missed that he caught
and looking at thought, ‘no more’?
Sweetest man, you probably told me
but I wasn’t listening just then.
I am now.

Marian and Patrick Burnett were my best friends in university, all those many years ago. A young Bahá’í couple, they opened their home and hearts to an awkward, shy, newly minted Bahá’í youth just arrived into the big city. They were wonderful and I quickly came to think of Pat as the older brother/best friend/spiritual guide/mentor that every young man needs.

Pat was amazing. Smart, wise, strong, experienced, kind, generous and funny…gosh, so very, very funny, with a wonderful, subtle sense of insightful humor. And too, a wonderful taste in music. Much of the music I listen to today was guided by him; he had an incredible ear for good music and was the first to teach me to slip through musical genres to look for the magic of emotion in the layer below.

Let me share just one story about Pat. My mother loved him (she loved to cook and he loved to eat so they were a pair made in heaven) but, still he was outside of her sphere of experience. Then, one year, she became quite ill and spent quite a bit of time in a hospital where Pat, and often Marian, were rigorous about visiting her. She told me years later that there were times when the drugs would knock her out and Pat would be the last thing she saw as the light faded, sitting there reading a book, and he would be the first thing she saw as she came to some time later, “Still reading his book!” she would say, and picking up the conversation just where they left it off. After that, she loved Marian, and especially Pat, with a devotion that she held for few outside of the family (and not many even in that group.) He was thereafter her Pat and Marian, and that was that and God help the poor person that did not love them too!

Sadly—and I confess this was all my doing—after I graduated and moved away we drifted out of contact. (Of the many faults in my makeup, the fact that I have trouble sustaining long distance relationships is the one that betrays me the most.) The odd email or call is no replacement for being face-to-face and able to hug and to touch and to laugh.

The day that Pat’s son, Justin, was able to find me on Facebook and to tell me the sad news of his father’s death, was a hard one for me. As I was trying to take it in, I could hear my mother, long since passed, with one of her tropes, “Only the good die young!” And while that may not be true, what is true is that he was far too young to be gone from us. I still appreciate Justin’s kindness and tenacity in tracking me down, but I am not surprised that he did; he is very much, I think, like his father and his mother: kind, considerate and loving. I wish I was closer to them both to know him better.

Thank you for reading Patrick. 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

January 20, 2013 Postscript:

Marian, Pat’s beloved wife and someone I am lucky and proud to call a dear, dear friend, recently shared this beautiful poem with me and then graciously allowed me to add it to the original post. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

After Seven Years

All there was before the shock
I have been clearing, sorting,
using the best
for my foundation.

He was the one
who introduced me
to the Maker of Blueprints
and encouraged me to build
My spire toward heaven

The poem Patrick, and the notes that accompany it are © 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poems 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.

The poem After Seven Years is © 2013 by Marian Burnett; all rights reserved; it may not be reproduced in any way without the written approval of the author.

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