Monthly Archives: January 2013

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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To the test

At the end, all we had was hope,
flickering like a taper in the night.
First it began to waver, then to stutter,
next to gutter—finally it gave out with a puff.
The sandstorm then fell upon us like a ravening wolf,
tearing out what little heart we had left.
Outside, we could hear them, calling out loud:
Surely the Book of God is sufficient unto us!
Above, dispersing on the air and adding to the stench,
was that second volley of seven hundred and fifty rounds.
up
This poem is about the Martyrdom of the Báb, the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith, an event which took place in Tabriz, Irán on July 9, 1850. But it is also about a geo-political reality that affects us today, the splitting of Islám into two branches, Sunní and Shí’ah, and how these two historical events are intertwined.

Both stories are complex, but I will try to keep the explanation short. I should state at the outset that, like Christians are not Jews, Bahá’ís are not Muslims. Let me explain: Christianity is its own independent religion, as is Judaism—yet the Founder of Christianity was born a Jew and Christians believe in, and accept, the Divinity of the Jewish Prophets; as a Bahá’í I believe in, and accept the Divinity of the Prophet Muhammad, and Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith was born a Muslim. But I am not a Muslim. The Bahá’í Faith is, like Judaism, Christianity, Islám, Buddhism and Hinduism, an independent, world religion.

The poem is written from the view of the followers of the Báb, and how they must have felt in those last few hours as His death grew nearer. He and a companion were martyred when They were hanged by Their wrists in a doorway and executed by a single volley from the 750 muskets of an army regiment. The sandstorm that followed—the storm and all the events of that Day are corroborated by European diplomats in the city at that time—was sufficient to make it seem as if permanent night had fallen on the noonday sun. (A fuller version of the story can be found here on the interfaith site, BeliefNet.com.)

The linkage of the Martyrdom of the Báb to the split of Islám into it’s two main branches is more complex. To understand that, you have to understand how Islám was divided at all.

At root was the question of succession to the Prophet Muhammad, the Founder of Islám. Sunnís believe that the succession was properly followed through the election of a series of Caliphs, starting with Abu-Bakr, a wise, elderly man, a long time personal friend of the Prophet and an an early convert to Islám. Such a process of succession would have been typical in any major clan decision in Arabia at that time. Hence its quick acceptance by the majority of Muslims of the day.

The second Caliph (this is important when it comes to the explanation of the Shí’ah branch of Islám) was ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, a fiery, driven person who was also an early convert to Islám.

Shí’ahs, on the other hand, contend that Muhammad had publicly designated His son-in-law, Alí, as His chosen successor at a sermon given in the last year of His life at the pool of Khum. Moreover they believe that shortly before His passing, Muhammad asked for writing materials to be brought, so that He could dictate His last wishes with regard to succession, but that ‘Umar interdicted that command, saying that the Prophet was delirious from His illness and that, “The Book of God [referring to Islám’s Holy Book, the Qur’án] sufficeth us.” This act, Shí’ahs contend, scuttled hope for a unified Islám, caused the separation that still effects us today and ensured that ‘Umar himself would one day secure the leadership of Islám, especially since Abu-Bakr, the first obvious choice, was an elderly man.

Today, the Sunní branch occupies the western portion of Islám, up to the northern two thirds of Iráq. The Shí’ah portion occupies the remaining one third portion of Iráq and continues on into the east, through Irán and into Afghanistan. Pakistan and into the Pacific, however, reverses this trend and is mostly Sunní. The division point between the two branches explains the current inter-Islám warfare that goes on in the south of Iráq and, therefore, much of the current political turmoil in that country.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and Himself the Leader of the Bahá’í Faith after His Father’s passing, states that the musket bullets used by the regiment to kill the Báb were made from the statement made by ‘Umar as Muhammad lay dying. He means, by this, I think, that the statement, “The Book of God sufficeth us,” (or the Book of God is sufficient unto us as it is cast in the poem) is corruptive in that it put ‘Umar’s personal will over the Will of God. Moreover, the method used—to dignify and justify such an act with reference to the Book of God—is particularly wrong as it coats ‘Umar’s ambition with a false sense of purity and holiness. In so doing, and in this context and at this extreme measure, it is a betrayal and attack on the ancient and enduring Covenant by which God directs man. The consequences of that one act, in its introduction of disunity, still resonate within Islám and the world today.

In the end, what more heinous act can be committed by man than to willingly reject God’s Messenger to this world? And what more terrible way to do that than to coat the act as one performed out of piety and faith?

If you have made it this far, I sincerely thank you for reading To the test with its overlong explanation. 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 truth we lie

I told a lie
and this is the truth,
I really wasn’t there.

I told the truth
and this is no lie,
I know I wasn’t there.

But here where we are
I want you to know
I am—it’s true—still trying.

So now do you believe me
when I earnestly tell you
that I am actually lying?

Knots is a book of poetry by R. D. Laing. A psychiatrist, although an unconventional one, Laing was fascinated by the complexities of emotional entanglement, the emotional knots we find ourselves in. In retrospect, the poetry is sad and disheartening, but it is well written and scathingly honest.

This poem was not written to be a Laing-like copy. But I confess to being drawn to poetry that explores the specific intensely. Having got to the age I am, I am more comforted by the hope and support of emotional honesty and the belief that despite our misfortune to be human, we can build divinely inspired relationships if we are humble enough and try hard enough.

Thank you for reading In truth we lie. 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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That boulevard

We walked hand in hand,
the first time I had ever touched a man
and kept hold after the embrace.
We must, I suppose, have talked of much,
although of what I cannot now recall.
But nothing said more
than what was said with that hold
as we strolled down that boulevard
like we owned it.

Your culture is not your language, what you eat or what you wear. You can learn the first, get used to the second and wear anything that’s decent, and still not be assimilated into a culture. Your culture is the instant, without thinking way that you react in a given situation…the “from the gut” or “knee jerk” reaction that you not only cannot control, but is so instinctive that you do not even realize that is is controlling you.

In North American culture, people of the same sex do not touch in public, or if they do, only briefly. Opposite sexes touch in public, and can remain touching. In Africa, it is the exact opposite. People of different sex never touch in public, while people of the same sex display friendship by holding on to each other continually. While you will rarely see a man and a woman, even if they are married, touching in public, you will often see two men or two women strolling hand-in-hand and talking. So for me, taking hold of an African man’s hand and walking down the street talking with him was not just an act of friendship and trust, it was an act of culture bending unity. On that day, in that time, we did own that boulevard.

Thank you for reading That boulevard. 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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Oh-so-softly

I am guilty—who do I blame?
I am old—who do I entreat?
I am torn—who do I thank?

There is, I suspect, in the shell of every need
the pith of an answer
and the crown of a desire rooted deep in pure release.
Not lost (not yet) but slipping,
just-oh-so-softly away.
Aye, slipping.

There comes an age when you are “older.’ By this I do not mean “21 is older than 20,” but “older” as in “old.” You recognize that the majority of your life is behind you and that certainly the most dynamic, energizing part has slipped into the past.

This realization put me in a reflective mood, looking back on my life. None of it matters, not really. Who you have been and are, the people you affected and who affected you—that matters—but only in a reflective way, as a mirror reflects the world. The moment that is, is, and for right now, that is all you have. Not the past, not the future, but only the here and now.

Thank you for reading Oh-so-softly. 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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