Monthly Archives: February 2013

My hero

I need words but I am at a want for them,
hope, but there is none to be had;
understanding, but there are only these whispers
and they just echo in my head.

They are not me, but I will own them;
they are me, but I will not rue them;
they are not me, but I will hold them,
they just are, are, are.

Mental illness is a burden on the afflicted and an equal burden on those who love them. It is a sad thing to see someone you know to be sweet, smart and funny caught in the grips of mental illness. They slowly become someone else who is different and not the person you know they really are.

But if mental illness in general is a burden, the hardest to bear is schizophrenia. You see the person slip into a world where it is harder and harder for them to understand reality and yet the one thing they hold on to is the absolute assurance that they are not ill and that their view of the world is perfectly real. There is no “logical” way to explain that their world is not “reality,” that what they perceive is not the way the world really is, that they are not in the danger they think they are.

And it is persistent, a heartache that never relents. Anyone who suffers from schizophrenia and who, every day, tries to rise above it and beyond it is my hero. Every day.

Thank you for reading My hero. 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.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Poetry

Louder

This do I swear:
that if at this very moment
You were to reach out with Your hand
and still my beating heart,
louder would it pound in Your heaven!

I wrote this poem in March, 1982, while en route to Rwanda from my home in Canada. I was making my way through England, Israel and Kenya to move to Africa to teach the Bahá’í Faith—to go, as it is said in my religion, “pioneering.”

I was, unfortunately, incredibly ill at the time. What started out as a small headache as I took off on the first leg of the trip quickly blossomed into a high fever and heavy chest infection; I ended up being very sick for a full week and still quite weak for longer after that. Thank heavens I was not superstitious!

Did my illness have anything to do with this poem? If it did, I wish I could get sick like that more often. Happiness is a characteristic of the body, but joy is a characteristic of the soul and on that journey, despite my illness, I was joyous!

It was, I have no doubt, the finest moment of my life and a time and a memory I will always treasure. Thank God for allowing me that moment.

Thank you for reading Louder. 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.

Comments Off on Louder

Filed under Poetry

When it was just a game

Where were you on the 28th of September, 1972
when with 34 seconds left, Henderson saved your soul?
Me, I found myself lost in the uproar,
desperate to join the catharsis that was
making the world perfect for one perfect second.
But try as I might I couldn’t join in,
I knew it was just a game after all.

Look at my hands,
so much has changed since then:
the right one aches in the morning
and the left one still bears the scar
of that ring, sworn upon once
and then sworn upon again,
but broken now and long since ended.

And Henderson? They say he found religion
and if so I am happy for him, I am.
And while I still don’t understand the uproar,
now I know it’s not just a game after all.
Is it Paul?

The game referred to in the poem is the final hockey game of the 1972 Canadian/Russian “Summit Series” tournament. For those interested, a full description of that event is included at the end of this post.

The Summit Series is, however, incidental to the poem. As an event it was famous and intense in its day but time has reduced it in importance and influence. My intent was to use it as a mirror to, and in contrast with, the end of my first marriage.

This is not revenge poetry—I have no ax to grind with my ex-wife. Our marriage was difficult, but equally so for each of us. The simple truth of it is that although we tried, we were just not meant to be life long companions. And from our marriage we have two sons we both love and with whom, even as we dissolved our union, we worked very hard to assure that this was about us, not them, and about our failings and not anything they did or did not do.

What did I learn? That marriage is not a game, to be fought with a sense of strategy in the hope to be the winner. But no matter the course of a marriage, ending one should be an occasion for sadness: so much promise, so much effort, so much pain—it’s inevitable that there should be some reflection and questioning.

Thank you for reading When hockey was just a game. 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.

The Summit Series

In 1972, Canada had long been held at a disadvantage in international hockey tournaments as its best players were professionals in the National Hockey League and therefore ineligible to play at the World Championship and Olympic Games. As a result, Canadian and Soviet officials negotiated a first everm eight game September “Summit Series” in which any professional or amateur player could play. The series was a shock to the collective Canadian psyche; broad predictions of a Canadian sweep of the series were quickly proven wrong as the tournament began. The Russian team was good, fast and dogged; their goal tending  in particular, was superb. In the fifth game Paul Henderson scored to give Canada a 4 to 1 lead, but also suffered a concussion, although he was able to return. The heroics were for naught, however, as the Soviets came back to win that game. At that point they led the series 3-1-1 and appeared on the brink of taking the overall win. But Canada dug deep and after being toughened in a two game Swedish series en route to Russia, won the sixth and seventh games there, both on game winning goals by Paul Henderson.

The series by then, and in those cold, pre-detente days, had taken on a cultural sub-text: it was West vs East, democracy vs communism, the good guys against the bad, the elemental “us versus them.” It’s ridiculous now to think of the tournament in that fashion, but in 1972, that was what it had become. This difference was only magnified by the contrast of the game audiences: the Russians sitting quietly and watching intently, the few Canadian fans creating an almighty uproar that was almost loud enough to be heard “back home.” In the final, eighth game—Canada was essentially shut down to watch it live—the Soviets entered the third period leading with a 5 to 3 score. But goals by Phil Espisito and Yvan Cournoyer tied the game and the series. With only seconds left, Paul Henderson, after an initially blocked shot, came back from sliding into the rear boards and scored the winning goal, in a shot said to have caused all of Canada to simultaneously stand and scream out in one united roar. The good guys had won—barely—but they had won, and Paul Henderson was the undisputed hero of the tournament. Surprisingly—but perhaps not—the sudden fame was hard on Henderson, who struggled to keep his life and his family together. But eventually he did, becoming a born again Christian and finishing out his hockey career with distinction and going on in retirement from hockey to join the religious ministry.

5 Comments

Filed under Poetry

True lessons

Dad! said Aaron (he’s five),
I bet I can beat you to the grocery store door!
What’s the use? I laughed, preparing,
knowing exactly what was written in the moment.
You always—WIN!

And on that ‘win,’ I dashed and he dashed
and in all that dashing together
the simple difference in our heights
added up to a tragic occurrence:
his fist smashed me in my crotch.

Calming him down afterward was the second hardest part,
It’s OK, hon, it was only an accident…
I’ll be able to breathe in a minute.

Which just goes to show you that,
1) you don’t always know what is written in the moment,
and that, 2) you’d do it all over again.
(But not so hard, and please God, not so soon.)

Sad to say, but this is a true story which played out exactly as I have described it. I hesitated posting it as I very rarely try to be funny in poetry.

Thank you for reading True lessons. 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.

Comments Off on True lessons

Filed under Poetry

Ger tzedek

Dying since ‘Nam,
re-born last week,
dead now today.
If I didn’t have anything to laugh at,
I’d weep.

Recently I posted A Time To Laugh, a poem for a dear friend who had passed away. In going through my notes, I discovered another poem written on the day of his death as I drove back to my office after visiting him for the last time.

A “ger” is, in Hebrew, a male convert to Judaism and is related to the ancient word used to mean “to reside.” It originally meant “stranger,” i.e. a non-Jew living in Israel. A “ger tzedek” is used in the Talmud to denote a righteous convert, a process Carl underwent just before his death.

But I am not Jewish. If I have misconstrued these words, it is by accident, not intent, and I apologize in advance. Corrections are welcomed.

Thank you for reading What a difference a life makes. 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.

Comments Off on Ger tzedek

Filed under Poetry

If you are reading this, then…

No cause is without its innocents,
its families loved and lost,
no truth lacks its heroes
nor doom denied its cost.

I don’t ask why, but how,
not where, but when,
for surely the irony of it
will break you:
brutal and bloody or
slow and steady,
yet gladsome all the same.
Who?

Truth be told, we are such pity inspiring creatures. So easy to hurt and to damage, so fast to fall when struck, so quick to damage when hurt. And we are so finely interconnected that when one is felled, the pain radiates outward like ripples in a pool, affecting all those who love the stricken.

Go to any Amnesty International meeting. There you will hear the heartbreaking stories of the tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience who are held, imprisoned, beaten, tortured and killed for their beliefs. There you will imagine how their families feel, how they live in fear and horror every day of their lives. My religion, the Bahá’í Faith, has not escaped this. There are, right now in Iran, nearly 100 of my fellow co-religionists in jail for no other reason than their religion.

And yet all these prisoners of conscience do it. Why? Surely there is nothing easier then recanting a belief, especially with your freedom or life being risked. But yet they hold fast and in the end, it is you and me who reap the reward for their strength and determination.

What is “sacrifice”? Surely it is to give up something of greater value for something of lesser value. But what if that act returns more than what was given up? What if it returns oceans of grace, mountains of love and an eternal sense of felicity? And not just to the recipient, but to the whole world? Is it still “sacrifice” or something far greater?

We must be diligent in our memory of the world’s prisoners of conscience and in our appreciation and understanding of their gift. And we must understand that it is they who change the world and make it into a better place. Them. Only them.

Thank you for reading If you are reading this, then…. 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.

1 Comment

Filed under Poetry

A grasping man

I am a miser born, a greedy man,
the more I have the more I am,
the more I give the more I can
hold back the fear that I fear the most,
the covetousness of pain. My plan?
Feel it for a truth and bleed it,
just bleed it.

I have never described how this blog got its name. I was living in Tunisia and asked a friend, an elderly Palestinian Bahá’í named Rephai—now, sadly passed on to the next world—how to say the word “pain” in Arabic. He responded “Elam.” Why I asked the question, I can no longer remember. In any case, then and there I told him that I had decided, if I ever published my poetry, I would do so under the title of Kitáb-i-Elam.

Many books in the Bahá’í Faith are of the pattern Kitáb-i-Name. (To name two: the Kitáb-i-Aqdas—The Most Holy Book—and the Kitáb-i-Iqán—The Book of Certitude.) By noting this I am not in any way suggesting that anything I write would or could ever be remotely associated with such Writings. Books named in this style are the foundational Writings of my religion and I would not dishonor Them in thought or deed by comparison or imitation. But in homage to that naming convention, I chose to use the pattern and thus decided to use it for this blog.

Rephai stopped and looked at me and said in a very serious manner, “That is a very good name. But if you use it, make sure that your poetry is worthy of it.” To appreciate what he was getting at, you must understand that all Arabic speaking peoples have a deep and long historical love of poetry. Poems and poets are taken very seriously throughout the Islamic world and it is honored dearly. I knew Rephai was being very serious when he told me this, as an elder to a young man should give council.

Rephai, you dear man, I hope you think I have honored my side of the deal.

Thank you for reading Hold back 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

© 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.

Comments Off on A grasping man

Filed under Poetry