Monthly Archives: July 2013

I am no handyman

He would sit rubbing his balding head,
staring at the broken part, pondering,
certain that no power supply or heating coil,
no if-you-built-it, I-can’t-fix it thing
could hide its mysteries from him.
Once I watched him build, by himself,
a set of dovetailed cupboards—
each shelf level and every support square
on walls and floorboards that weren’t.
It took two shots, but he got it right.

It was the doing of it that he loved,
the way mechanical things surrendered to his will
that in the end separated us.
My father could fix anything—but not me.

I was on an Independence Day ride with a friend recently when we got to talking about our fathers. (On long rides, cyclists have to be imaginative to keep the conversation going.)

Interestingly, both of our fathers were handymen and could build or fix anything. More importantly, however, we also agreed that for the two of us, it just made more sense to get someone else to do it right from the very beginning: it saved the time of the initial attempt, the cursing of the assured failure and the eventual call to the professional to come and do an even bigger job than before we started messing with it. And besides, living this way leaves more time for cycling, and to be honest, it really is all about the cycling.

But one thing my friend said caught my more serious side…that our fathers were great handymen not just out of need (although there was that) but because they loved doing it.

Thank you for reading I am no handyman. 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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La Jornada del Muerto

Everybody walks the path of the dead,
some more often than others.
There are those who would extol it
for its majesty, its core of brutal simplicity,
but not me. The sere of the sun,
the drudgery of the trek,
the pitilessness of the far-off horizon
some deserts are just too deep.
Death is not swift here, it prefers to linger
and slither along beside you, judging.

So don’t ask the weary foot sloggers
the why of their tears—they don’t know,
nor the how of their laughter—it isn’t.
Just let me say this as surely I can:
of all that is beauty,
of all that makes beauty sweet and sad,
to me, they are, there, on that trail,
the most beautiful that can be.

La Jornada del Muerto actually translates as “the single day’s journey of the dead man.” I exercised some poetic license to translate it as “the path of the dead.” It originally referred to a 100 mile stretch of totally barren dessert along the route the 17th century Spanish Conquistadors used to travel from their headquarters in what is now Mexico to the furthest northern limits of their North American empire in what is now New Mexico.

I first read about La Jornada del Muerto while my wife and I were driving through New Mexico, en route from Kansas to El Paso, Texas to meet our just-born first grandson. He is a strapping and handsome brute today and a wonderful and kindhearted young teenager (we, of course, take all the credit for this without having done any of the hard work to make it so) which gives you some indication of how long an idea can sit with me before I deal with it in a poem.

The poem was written with the trials and tribulations of a very dear friend who is courageously fighting depression clearly in my mind and deeply in my heart. Que tengas buen viaje!

Thank you for reading La Jornada del Muerto. 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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Looking down

The road is not a metaphor
and I am no example.
I do not ride to learn or be anything,
or to meet anyone’s approval or goal,
not even—most especially—my own.

I ride for the rhythm,
the flow, the doing,
the hours-on heat glide of it:
the pedal stroke of a boy
who never lost sight of
doing just that, riding away…
not sweating it,
riding away,
left/right,
left/right,
on,
looking down.

The start of this poem was inspired by the opening sentence of It All Becomes Us by Bill Strickland in the August 2013 issue of Bicycling magazine: “The road is not an allegory.”

Every amateur cyclist loves to cycle; it’s too painful a process to repeat to the level where you are comfortable with it, if you don’t love it. But what is there to love?

Thank you for reading Looking down. 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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Do you?

up

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I work with several wonderful reviewers on some of my poetry. One, KB, from The Mirror Obscura (a site that I highly recommend by the way—KB is an incredible poet) had suggested the poem may be too prosaic.

On the other hand, the  fantastic Julia Dean-Richards from A Place for Poetry (a fellow PenDraggon; I have linked to her deeply moving work before, here and here) liked it, but then did two things that saved it: 1) she cut it’s length, making it briefer and more to the point (never a bad thing), and 2) changed the font size of certain phrases.

The result seems—to me anyway—to leap from the page and become even more intense then I had written it. Unfortunately, my blog theme does not allow me to change the size of a font so I opted to post an image of the poem that preserves the exotic formatting.

Thank you for reading Do you? We 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 Julia-Dean Richards and 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 for this poem is: © 2013 by Julia Dean-Richards and John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Alas for we who remain

Thy barefoot lovers who steal shoes
from their brothers
are not thieves—they are Thy signs.

Thy true parents who abandon the trusts
of Thy bounty
are not remiss—they are Thy lights.

Thy sincere ones who forswear every act
in Thy service
are not lapsed—they are Thy guides.

But alas for we who remain.
You—You created this paradox
for us, didn’t You?
Even with all of Your knowledge
it is only through You
that we can have any hope in us.

…we must sacrifice the important for the most important.‘Abdu’l-Bahá

It is a simple question with no easy answer: how do those who sacrifice themselves for their ideals justify their act to those who depend on them? How do we understand martyrs?

To be honest, I struggle with this one too.

Thank you for reading Alas For We Who Remain. 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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A peaceful forest

Across the broken back of the old stone wall
the tree lay crashed, staunch, fallen.
Two hundred years seed to crown—
twenty years dying, dead, done and down,
with what? twenty more to be gone?

A silent forest is a terrible thing
full of musk, chaos and rot
it is hard to feel young in a forest.
But if you close your eyes,
and listen, just listen,
you can hear it if you try…
and there is a measure of solace in that.

This is a simple poem for a simple truth: I was driving one day and in a quick glimpse, saw a mighty tree fallen across an old, typical, New England, free-stacked stone wall. The one had broken the other and I thought to myself, “There must be a poem in that!”

I hope you agree.

Thank you for reading A peaceful forest. 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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Doggerel

Tell me a tale of pigs-in-pokes
and beans and groats
and all took slow to market.
Where Jack falls down
like a ribald fool clown
and Jill is broke thereafter.
Yes, tell me please,
because I sit here ill-at-ease
and everyone, it seems, agrees:
the dish just ran away from the spoon.

Thank you for reading Doggerel. 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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Ian Hamilton’s ‘Prayer’

Look sir, my hands are steady now,
My brain a cloudless day.
Is that the sound of breakfast down below?
To eat again seems possible.
To breathe?
No problem, Lord, I promise. I’m OK.

I have, for some time now, been posting some of Ian Hamilton’s poems; Prayer is the fifth and the last in this series. It is his last poem, written as he was dying of cancer in 2001.

Having read the entire collection of his poems, which are few in number, but each powerfully written, I am personally convinced he is the finest poet of the second half of the 20th century. This is obviously a very audacious assessment; but whether you agree with this or not, I am certain that you will enjoy exploring his oeuvre.

Click here for a list of the other Ian Hamilton poems on the Book of Pain.

For more on Ian Hamilton, I refer you to: his Wikipedia page.

Thank you for reading Ian Hamilton’s ‘Prayer. 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

Comments © 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved.

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The sad, dark tragedy of Fritz Haber

Take blood from kith and kin
and add nitrogen, chlorine and gold
and you’ll have all the elements
of a wicked good story, tears included.

Lift up, fall down, cut and combine,
put the pressure on and never let up;
push for this, grasp for that
angle to be arrived at,
to be more than just ‘me’, a ‘him.’
As for the rest,
dulce est decorum est
the darkest of the darksome roads.

He thought it was about knowledge,
I can hear him now:
Only Eden matters, it’s where I am going
and taking me and mine—
just there, just now, just watch me, see?
I made it, me alone, I made it…that’s me!
That’s him.

This poem was written in response to the tragic and horrific Fritz Haber story, told in brief below. It deals with the consequences of being willing to pay any price for knowledge and for personal advancement and recognition. True in the Book of Genesis, true in Faustus, it is still true today.

Dulce est decorum est pro patria mori (DOOL-kay eh de-KORum eh pro PAtree-ah Mor-ee) is Latin and means, it is sweet and right to die for one’s country; they are the opening lines of an ode by Horace. Widely quoted in Britain in the run-up to, and during, World War 1 (and with derision thereafter) Dulce est Decorum Est, which deals with the utter horror of chemical warfare, is a brilliant and moving poem by Wilfred Owen, a young British poet who experienced it first hand and sadly, did not survive through to the Armistice.

The Sad, Dark Tragedy of Fritz Haber

At the beginning of the 20th century, the world was in a quandary: where would it get the food to feed its exploding population? Plant cell walls need nitrogen to grow, but there just wasn’t a sufficient natural supply of the element available. Haber, a German physicist, developed a process to synthesize nitrogen from the air, where it is abundant, by using a high pressure containment vessel. The product, ammonia, in turn went on to be the base for both the agricultural fertilizer business and the manufacture of explosives.

It is fair to say that at least half, and perhaps up to 70%, of the current world’s population could not be fed without this process for the production of artificial fertilizer. One hundred percent of all ammunition gunpowder also uses it. For this work, Haber was awarded the Noble Prize in Chemistry in 1918.

Both Fritz Haber and his wife, Clara, were Jewish-German and born in what is now Poland. They converted to Lutherism early in their careers (Clara was also a physicist and one of the first women to be awarded a PhD in Germany) to open up academic opportunities. For his work, and despite his rather nondescript personality, poor social connectivity and religious background, Haber was appointed the head of a prestigious research institute.

It was the advent of World War 1 (1914-1918) that turns the Fritz Haber story so dark. Passionately patriotic and wanting to grow into his new social status, Haber convinced the German High Command—in contravention of the Hague Convention of 1907, to which Germany was a signatory—to implement chemical warfare. He not only developed the chlorine gas used in the first chemical warfare attack at the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, but personally played a role in its release. Caught unawares, six thousand Allied troops died a horrible, sickening death and opened a series of tit-for-tat chemical attacks and counter attacks (for the Allies quickly retaliated in kind) that saw tens of thousands on both sides die horribly.

For this act, Haber was personally awarded the rank of captain by the Kaiser, a rare honor for an aging, non-military academic. However, returning home for a day of rest, Haber had an argument over his actions with his wife Clara, who accused him of losing all moral credibility. Late that night, in grief over his actions, she committed suicide with his new service revolver. She was found the next day by their only child, Hermann, a 13 year old boy. Hermann would later immigrate to the United States and would himself, in 1946, also commit suicide over the shame of his father’s chemical warfare work. Unrepentant, and despite his wife’s suicide, Haber left that same day for the Eastern front, there to again participate in a test chemical attack on Russian troops.

If only the story ended there, but it doesn’t. Haber returned to work after the war, and in an attempt to quickly re-pay the humiliating German reparations demanded by the Allies, worked on a process to purify gold from seawater, a scheme which was held out with great hope at the time but which was eventually proven to be a total failure. Later, in protest over the firing of Jewish academics under his patronage, and also because of his own own heritage, Haber was forced out of his academic position and leadership by the Nazis. Haber left his homeland and immigrated to England, where, owing to his background in chemical warfare development, he received a cold reception. He died in 1934 of a heart attack in a Basel, Switzerland hotel while en route to taking up a teaching post in Israel.

It was after this that the final chapter of Haber’s full legacy played out. In the 1920s, at his research institute and under his direction, his team had developed Zyklon A, a cyanide (chlorine plus nitrogen compound) gas pesticide used as a fumigant. Years later, and because of its high toxicity, the Nazis requested that this gas be reformulated to remove its artificial, warning smell. It was, and Zyklon B went on to precipitate the Holocaust as the gas used in the concentration camps and was, in the end, responsible for the death of millions of people, mostly Jews, but also Slavs, Gypsies and some political dissidents. Many of Haber’s relatives from his home region, and certainly many of his friends, were part of the roundup and sent to the camps.

All because what Haber really wanted, I suspect, was to be accepted.

Thank you for reading The sad, dark tragedy of Fritz Haber. 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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