Monthly Archives: October 2013

Divorced from reality

a birch tree in the cold fog

The cold front, like a sly hyena clan,
slunk in through the night and
pounced on the warm moist air,
snarling and creating the fog in its hunt,
cackling as it roved in and took hold.

Early next morning I went hunting the banks
of stranded mist as their wisps and curls
pawed silently through the woods.
It’s a give and take thing photographing
a shabby old forest in low light.
You find yourself thinking,
How in God’s name did it ever get this way?
and Who will set it aright?
Shot after shot, quicker and quicker,
more desperate as it goes on to hold on,
you try and try but sometimes, you think,
you just can’t capture what this silence is
and anyway, they can’t see the trees for the trees.

As the sun rises, the clan hunts itself breathlessly,
worries itself relentlessly and snips away
the last tendrils of its cohesion.
And then it’s gone.

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How do we explain the inexplicable of what we do? I’m not sure, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.

Thank you for reading Divorced from reality. 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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Willy Oppenheim’s “Azan”

This is an amazing poem by an amazing poet. Willy Oppenheim is the winner of the 2013 Oxonian Review Poetry Competition at Oxford University for his poem Ambition, which you can find here. Willy is an American Rhodes Scholar reading for a DPhil in Education at Pembroke College, Oxford. With his permission I will be posting several of his wonderful poems over the next little while.

Azan

This is the good light,
the late light,
the grey-blue dark and cold,
the stone walls and snow
and songs announcing prayer.
This is the narrow frozen path
and the winter we belong to.

Coming back last night
I saw snowy road in headlights
and our silent earth from space
and wanted only to do no hurt.
To take it back,
to send a message
of my prostration.

Instead I returned to the smoke
and woodstove and darkened room
where two days before I watched a girl
bleed out under blankets:
pale face, held hands,
sisters spilling tears
and crying her name.
Dark eyes meeting mine.
The limp body brought out to daylight,
the waiting jeep, dirty hospital down-valley.

I come back to say she will live,
and her mother sings fingers to forehead,
gives praise I accept but don’t deserve.

And so I take what is given.
I look out at old rivers
and what valleys they’ve cut
and at night I see moon through clouds
and undress and lay down
as if it is the only prayer I know to offer,
as if pulling up cold blankets
is the best and last thing I’ll ever do.

Azan was written in Pakistan while Willy was there doing research. It is a poem for which I want to weep after every reading, it is so beautiful.

Besides his current studies, Willy is the founder and current president of omprakash, a platform to connect foreign organizations seeking volunteers with people who want to volunteer abroad. Willy is also an avid rock climber, a passion he is looking forward to pursuing in the upcoming year as his academic pressure has eased with the submission of his thesis, which he will defend in early 2014.

If all this sounds like Willy Oppenheim is the pen name of Clark Kent, I’d almost agree, except for the poetry; Superman couldn’t write this well. Happily, however, for us, Willy can. Check back for more of his work over the next few months. I am very grateful and humbled that a talent of such stature has allowed me to present some of his work to you.

Thank you for reading Willy Oppenheim’s “Azan”. 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

The poem Azan is ©2013 by Willy Oppenheim; all rights reserved.

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Memories of an altar boy

Pick a big coal and light it early, the bishop had said,
I want it to be fired up and glowing when I need it.
Later, as we walked to the vestibule to receive the casket
I could see there was a white pall draped across it
in memory of the swaddling clothes that had brought
them to the church in the first place. When he was ready
he heaped the myrrh on the glowing ember and lifted
the metal thurible high to swing it against the chain,
the clanking loud like the tolling of a bell,
once, twice, thrice…then repeated, again and again,
as he circled around the coffin. (We are, if nothing else,
pattern makers and pattern finders: pattern users.)
When we were done I carried the thing back to the altar,
acrid, pungent smoke belching from it, rising in a column,
bouncing on the ceiling and curling lazily along it;
I feared I would faint from the fumes…

The bishop—I can’t recall his name—was a hockey buff,
the Habs, I think. But he was also fond of the team
from my all-male, catholic school in their annual crusade
to keep The Cup from the protestants, a tally in which
to be honest, the good guys were lacking. During one game,
I remember, a fight broke out on the ice, a real donnybrook
of an affair. I looked back and there he was, up in
the stands, booming out encouragement, laughing
and swinging his arms, That’s it! Get ’em boys!

Maybe I should have stopped watching hockey then.
I didn’t, but still, I keep wondering…
are those skates still sharp? Are the sticks still hard
and are the referees still policing those penalties?
Are the bruises still black and purple, is there still
bright red blood splattered on the ice? And the church—
is the smoke still curling across the ceiling?
I don’t know, but I do know this:
I can’t abide the smell of incense. Patterns.

Funerals are good sources of poetic creativity. They are such stark, clear cut, emphatic events with an intense matrix of emotions. This poem was started as I attended the funeral of a co-worker’s father, when being in a church brought back memories of when I used to be a catholic and an altar boy.

This is a rare type of poem from me, a longer narrative one, although for some reason I same to be working on several like that right now. I hope you like this one and them, whenever I post them.

Just a few notes: The Habs is the nickname for the Montreal Canadiens NHL hockey team, based in the Province of Quebec, Canada. A thurible  is a hand-held metal censer (incense burner) suspended from one or more chains, in which incense is burned during some services. A burning charcoal briquette is placed in the thurible before the ceremony begins and incense is added when required. Because it takes some time for the incense to really start effectively burning, some priests (as in this poem) heap it on to get immediate combustion. Myrrh is a highly prized and expensive, natural tree oil resin used since ancient times as both a wine spice and in religious ceremonies. It was, for example, one of the three precious gifts given to the Christ Child by the Magi. It’s scent is instantly identifiable, strong and unique. Not unpleasant, when mild, anyway.

Thank you for reading Memories of an altar boy. 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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Mahvash Sabet’s “Bear This in Mind”

Mahvash Sabet is a Bahá’í prisoner of conscience currently serving an unjust 20 year sentence in Iran. Read more of her story here.

Bear This in Mind

When you pass by
a heap of rotting rats
bear this in mind:
they might not all be dead.
They might just be lying there,
lying and pretending.
Because no one bothers
the dead round here.

This is, I believe, an poem from the early part of Mavash’s incarceration. Please keep her in your hearts and prayers; she is gravely ill in prison, suffering from tuberculosis of the bone.

Please consider purchasing Mahvash Sabet’s poetry as an act of solidarity in the fight for human rights: in the US, from Amazon; in the UK, directly from the publisher.

john

This English edition of Bear This in Mind is ©2013 by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, who adapted the original Persian texts into English; all rights reserved.

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Ian Hamilton’s “The Garden”

Ian Hamilton is a poet from the second half of the 20th century who I greatly admire and whose poetry I love to champion. You can find a listing of more of his poems on the Book of Pain here.

The Garden

This garden’s leaning in on us, green-shadowed
Shadowed green, as if to say: be still, don’t agitate
For what’s been overgrown—
Some cobbled little serpent of a path,
Perhaps, an arbour, a dry pond
That you’d have plans for if this place belonged to you.
The vegetation’s rank, I’ll grant you that,
The weeds well out of order, shoulder-high
And too complacently deranged. The trees
Ought not to scrape your face, your hands, your hair
Nor so haphazardly swarm upwards to breathe
In summertime. It shouldn’t be so dark
So early.
All the same, if I were you,
I’d let it be. Lay down your scythe. Don’t fidget
For old clearances, or new. For one more day
Let’s listen to our shadows and be glad
That this much light has managed to get through.

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

Thank you for reading Ian Hamilton’s “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

Comments © 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved.

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This time it would be different

Hey, let’s buy a mobile home,
a thirty footer at least!
We could steal away, just us two
and do a cross-continental tour,
the Southern Cross—
you riding support
and me pedaling my bike,
crucifixion on the road.

Can’t you just see it?
Santa Monica to the Jersey Shore
via Death Valley and points beyond,
starting New Years and done by Easter,
suffering it out, pain to the core,
piss ‘n’ vinegar in every wound.
Each day you’d be to the right
and I’d be to the left,
you the navigator leading me true,
but this time bringing me home before
I pulled the dark down around me again.
That would be awesome! It really would,
just awesome! I wish we could.

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My sister and brother-in-law just bought a big Winnebago. The funny thing about this is that it was an idea in which they had never proposed any interest until one day they had done it, and now they love it. On the other hand, it is an idea that I have always raved about, especially with the idea of combining it with a slow, cross-continental tour by bicycle. It is also a plan about which my poor, long suffering wife has always rolled her eyes, thinking (possibly, perhaps rightly) I’d hate it. Irony…it has to be the most powerful force in the universe!

So I started this poem with a very heavy hand of humor, only to find it squiggling away and becoming, underneath the original tone, something very different indeed. It started with the words, “Southern Cross.”

Thank you for reading I’d be the unrepentant one on the left. 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

© 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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Mahvash Sabet’s “Fire”

They set fire to all you had:
each flame transformed
into a bright anemone of blood.
They pierce you through and shot
each arrow owned by old Farhad.
But when the sweet juice stained
the ground, it flowed from Shirin’s vein.

My heart breaks to deliver this poem to you, as does my soul soar in love and admiration. But before I explain why, let me make a few notes in explanation of the poem: an anemone is a daisy-like flower of the temperate zone, available in a variety of intense colors, including crimson red. The tale of Farhad and Shirin is one one of the most celebrated love stories of Persian literature, somewhat equivalent, I think, to the Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

This is one of the incredible prison poems of Mahvash Sabet, a Bahá’í who was arrested in Iran in 2008 merely for the crime of being a member of the Bahá’í Faith. Held for nearly three years without a proper hearing, she and a number of her co-religionists, were finally convicted on a series of trumped up false charges—those usual fabrications of an evil fantasy typically thrown at the Bahá’ís in Iran—and sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment. Fire comes from the new publication, Prison Poems by Mahvash Sabet; published by George Ronald Publishing.

Prison Poems is an incredible triumph of the heart and the soul, for while it documents the sorrow, fear and desolation of false imprisonment, it also chronicles the courage, love, growth, forgiveness, dedication and sacrifice of a transcended soul. As Mahnaz Parakand, one of the human rights lawyer, who, at great risk to her own freedom, courageously defended the Bahá’ís at their trial, states in her forward to the book, “Indeed the staunchness of faith and the unfaltering humanity of Mahvash Sabet is worthy of every praise.”

If you can, please keep Mahvash in your hearts. She is gravely ill in prison, suffering from tuberculosis of the bone.

Also, please consider purchasing Mahvash Sabet’s poetry as an act of solidarity in the fight for human rights: in the US, from Amazon; in the UK, directly from the publisher.

Now you know why my heart is broken and why my soul is soaring. Thank you for visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

This English edition of Fire is ©2013 by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, who adapted the original Persian texts into English; all rights reserved.

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