Monthly Archives: October 2013

If only

Végre nem butulok tovább
is Hungarian for,
“I’ve finally stopped getting dumber.”
If only, I thought…

If only that were true I
would not fool me so often—
shame, double shame on me.

If only that were true I
would not calculate so dear
the zero sum gain of a
positive sum want.

If only that were true I
would, instead, invest in the
future and not in the past
and sum the effort
overcoming what is me,
knowing this to be
the final truth of the heart.

If only.

The quotation that starts this poem came from a posting on the excellent essay blog, the Bully Pulpit, about Paul Erdős, one of the  most brilliant and prolific mathematicians of the twentieth century. Erdős proposed the line as his epitaph, and really, how can you not admire someone with that sense of humor? Or honesty.

The title of this poem was my immediate reaction to the quotation. It still is. It probably always will be.

Thank you for reading If only. 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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From the cradle

If I said that all we are was water
who would we be then?
We can write numbers,
but can we write them on water?

Could we not be many, but one,
one people, as we go down there
to the water, there to be made
from words and not numbers?
And when we say that,
we say it all with this:
we did it in the past,
so why not now?
Words, not numbers…
words.

OK, I agree, it may not be the greatest or most eloquent poem in the world, or even my best effort to date (opinions differ) but it does satisfy the two objectives that I set out to accomplish: 1) to write a poem that is meaningful to me and says something I want to say poetically, and 2) uses only words from the list of the 100 most commonly used words in the English language.

It wasn’t easy. I certainly wouldn’t recommend a lifetime of conversation using only this list or even the next hundred or the next; things get much easier once a few more basic nouns and verbs are added, but still, you would never be considered eloquent. To be restricted to using only the 100, 200 or 300 most common words for communication would be to ensure that the grunt and the finger jab would both become even more popular than they are now, even for your typical teen.

I was actually very curious about this list, as I have a sneaking suspicion that the vast majority of these words are of Anglo-Saxon—hence Germanic and hence Proto Indo European (PIE)—descent. We have a curious dichotomy in English: while the vast majority of the words we use are of Greek or Latin (and other-Latin, meaning via the Romance languages of French, Spanish and Italian) origin, or from the far flung British Empire, or just made up…the core words we tend to use the most often are the ones we first learn as children and are nearest and dearest to our basic thoughts and actions, and hence the words we use most often.

Thank you for reading From the cradle. 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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Last nights

Did you plan on dancing through the pain,
or you, to give sweets away in thanks?
And you—you prepared your wedding gown
when you knew that they were coming;
while you, in joy, communed the night through,
half here, half there, yearning for the dawn,
yearning for the chance to stand and cry,
‘O king!’ as if calling to a servant,
for of course you were, and for that alone would die.

I do not believe it happenstance—
that accident and fate can connive for
such perfection. But what love does it take
to command the will to shape such an end?
And so joyously?

Curiously, this poem had two creative forces. One, from several years ago was quite clear: my dearest friend and self-adopted brother, Samandary  (the English language really ought to have a specific word for this type of relationship—and it’s not ‘bro’) suggested both the idea, the title and much of the substance. (Clearly, you can understand why it took me so long to bring the poem to fruition, having been given so little to proceed on.)

The second impetus was my recent reading of the book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, an effort to prove—with this being counter-intuitive to our every notion—that violence has decreased throughout history and is today at its lowest level ever. It is a brilliant book and one that, quite frankly, I started to read to determine how silly and foolish the author was, only to be converted by the clarity of his writing and the strength of his facts and binding logic. Read it only if you do not fear feeling better about the world.

But there was one section of this book that I disagreed with, and that is the second specific impetus for this poem. Pinker is quite open about being an atheist. I have no problem with that, except that I think it taints his view of the role that self-sacrifice has placed in religious history. His description of the crucifixion process is quite graphic and he progresses from there to describe how religious martyrs have been killed throughout the ages, in a tone which does not so much describe the level of violence that the societies of that day could gleefully inflict (which is his point) but implies the silliness and foolishness of the martyrs to allow themselves to say or do anything that would set them up for such treatment.

I could not disagree more. To me, that “silliness and foolishness” is better called “certitude and conviction” and was not done to invite violence, but was done courageously in the face of such evil, so as to change it, one of the causes in the reduction of violence throughout the ages that Pinker does not care to suggest. Moreover, such courage is the hallmark of all the world religions.

We in the Bahá’í Faith are no exception to the history of relentless religious persecution. The different incidents referred to in this poem of how four stalwart heroes prepared for, or acted, during their martyrdom, actually happened. In fact, Bahá’í martyrdom still happens in Iran and Yemen to this day, the most recent being just a few weeks ago. True martyrdom is never sought, but when inflicted by evil, bigoted people, it is faced with courage, resignation, self-sacrifice, love and humility. And I, for one, will always honor them.

Thank you for reading Last nights. 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

PS: By the way, Iran English Radio, the official Iranian radio for English speaking peoples followed my blog after the publication of another poem in which I highlighted the persecution of religious minorities and the destruction of basic human rights in that country. I have little hope that my or your appeal to their humanity would make any difference, but be aware that they may read your comments. Also, Iran English Radio has yet to ‘like’ any of my poetry. Frankly, I’m hurt.

© 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 warp and woof of creation

From the warp and woof of creation
are we made, you and I. Truly,
I remember it well:
it was then, that then,
that perfect instance
before the smallest slice of hence,
when every tiny bit was hurling into
being and aiming straight for this now
with its cold, cruel lament in the sky.

But what exactly is this sterner stuff
that you and I are made of?
We are the longing that binds us to the whole
and weaves us both from and into
the fabric of our time. See?
Here and now/there and then,
that’s us, screaming at the darksome sky.

For some odd reason I can neither understand nor explain, I spend a lot of time thinking about time. And although I am not a Christian, let me make my point using an often used quote from the Bible: I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. (Revelations 22:13). Alpha and omega, being the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, represent the beginning of eternity and the end of eternity, i.e. infinity in both directions.

This statement sounds all powerful, and I do believe in the All Powerful God of the Old and New Testaments. But this aspect of God’s Majesty is not based on the fact that God predates time and will be God after time ends. That notion may have worked for an older time, but today I think we can recognize it for the somewhat smoke and mirror truth it is. In fact, with The warp and woof of creation, my point is that I believe we all predate time and we will all exist after it ends.

Time is, no more and no less, a physical dimension of the physical world, and with the three spatial dimensions, comprise the 3D world we live in that progresses forward into the future. But all peoples of all religions who believe in a Deity, by definition of that belief, believe that we are spiritual beings (and, truly, mainly spiritual beings) anchored only, while we are living, in this physical world. Thus, in coming from a spiritual existence we predate time, and when we leave the physical realm we will exist after time. In fact, this goes even deeper: once you are out of time’s clutches, to speak of ‘before’ time ‘or ‘after’ time doesn’t make sense. You are ‘beyond’ time and the past and the present and the future are, as far as they can exist, all one.

And just as equally, I believe that the spiritual part of our love is something we also take with us beyond the grave, beyond time’s ’embrace.’ In fact, what other purpose is the physical world then the spot designed to learn all the spiritual virtues? You certainly don’t take anything else with you when you go. This explains why cherishing love and keeping it lit and holding it aloft is so important.

And finally, I confess that I am very pleased to finally bring The warp and woof of creation to life, and as always I hope you enjoyed it and look forward to your comments. I first drafted it about 15 years ago and just recently found it in an old notebook, long ago abandoned because honestly, while the core idea was there from the start, it was a pretty awful poem then. I hope I have managed to bring it forth now in a way more deserving of its lofty theme. Perhaps doing so now is—how else can I say it—timely?

© 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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Enough

I do not hold you enough,
except when the night comes rumbling in,
wetting and chilling the air before it.

I do not hold you enough,
except in my dreams
when they bend down all around me
and dredge the day more darkly.

I do not hold you enough,
except when I cannot wake to the dawn
and stay instead, frightened and fighting myself,
holding on to the warm smoke you’ve become,
like I’m some shaman begging his gods for healing.

I just do not hold you enough.

up

Thank you for reading Enough. 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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