Monthly Archives: November 2013

Long may she reign

Rags, our 17 year old imperious barn cat
was dining at 6 but gone by 9—royalty do
know how to affect a scene, don’t they?
A mouser extrodinaire, it seemed she would be
with us for evermore, remaining ’til the end a friendly,
loving queen of her domain—just don’t poll the rodents.

It cannot be denied, however, that her majesty
could be a terrible tease when she wanted:
she loved to regally swish the horses in the face
as she tight-walked the stalls of her kingdom,
and would deign to lie in the middle of the track
because she knew I would go around her,
which of course I did. Muttering, it’s true,
but still, I did it.

Whenever I went to feed the fish in the pond
she would establish her monarchy on the spot
and graciously rule from the bench beside me—
although I was never quite sure if she was there
to survey her realm or was casing the joint for later.
That was Rags.

As she aged we tried to entice her in
on bitter nights but she would hide,
preferring instead her throne in the hayloft
to a warm, cozy retreat in another’s castle.
She was a good cat, was Rags, I’ll miss her,
even more than she’ll miss me, I think,
and I wonder what we will do now without her.
The rejoicing among the rodents, for one,
is getting out of hand!

I wrote this poem after reading a charming Facebook post by Gail Dickinson, repeated in full below. In giving me the go ahead, Gail also told me that the friend who originally gave her Rags as a kitten passed away only a month before. Such are the links that bind us.

I confess some inspiration for this poem from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, the inspiration for Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats. Eliot is often extolled as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, but I have to be honest, except for, and because of, his gem on the inner life of felines, the quality of his other work pales to me.

Thank you for reading Long may she reign. 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

Facebook post from Gail Dickinson, 2013.11.24—Rags. Our 17 year old barn cat was gobbling breakfast at 6 am this morning and at 9 am, she was dead on her cat bed in the barn 😦 . She was one of those cats guilty of killing many small mammals, which we appreciated greatly. A friendlier, more loving cat couldn’t be found, rubbing against horses’ faces when she walked along stall walls and jumping into the lap of anyone sitting down outside. She also thought it was funny to lie in the way of the carriage when I was driving in the ring, forcing me to go around her. She knew when I came out with the can of fish food that I would be sitting down by the pond to watch them eat and would jump on the garden bench to wait for me. As she aged we would try to catch her to bring inside on cold nights but after a few successfully tries she started hiding, it seems she preferred a nest in the hayloft to a private room in the house. At least she seems to have gone peacefully. She was a good cat.

© 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.

Facebook posting by Gail Dickinson, © 2013 by Gail Dickinson; all rights reserved; may not be published in any form whatsoever.

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In Normandy, in November

I’d just left a small but well-kept graveyard where again
I’d searched but failed to find my father’s grave—
I was beginning to wonder if it mattered. And that was
the moment, while closing the gate, that I heard it,
a set of Great Highland bagpipes noising down the cobbled way.

A piper in regimental regalia, glengarry, sporran and kilt,
even a sgian-dubh poking from his hose, was slowly marching
along the road, plaintively playing Going Home. And amazingly,
from every neat brick home from both sides of the street,
they came to stand and listen: young and old, small and tall,
men and women, each solemnly watching the one man parade.

After he passed I asked an elderly man who the piper was.
His English was as bad as my French but eventually
I understood that the young man’s father used to annually
march this route, calling to the comrades he had left behind
in the scattering of graveyards thereabouts.
When the elder had become too infirm to stand his watch,
the son had taken up the call. Then the old man grew silent.

And in silence, his eyes, soft under their big bushes,
lingered long on the back of the piper. Close but not,
I could hear just then the roar and screams of
desperate men in desperate times raging through
and around and over us. It was, no doubt, a time
when all that could be owned was chance, and as luck
would have it, he lived and mine didn’t, but more
importantly, he remembered what I had forgot.
Then catching himself, he nodded a curt Au revoir,
but before letting him go, I took the blood red poppy
from my breast and pinned it to his own.

This poem originated from an idea poised by my dear friend and wonderful poet, Julia Dean-Richards who blogs at A Place for Poetry. She proposed co-writing a poem on the line, “Where would you put your poppy down?” But of course I botched the whole idea by making it the original title of this poem and writing the whole thing from beginning to end because I couldn’t stop, once the story got in my head. And then, eventually I changed the title. (That’s me for you, no gratitude, not even for a great line of poetry. Sorry, Julia!)

The story presented here is not factual, although I hope, real. I am particularly thankful that my father, although a veteran of the Second War, is still alive and hearty at 89. The part about the piper is, however, real and happened to my sister. She and her husband were visiting a small Canadian Military graveyard in Normandy when a young man came marching by playing his bagpipes in honor of his father who had recently passed away.

Some notes on the poem: Normandy, France was the site of the Allied invasion into Europe and against Germany during World War II, and was the site of much fierce fighting and loss of life, as attested to by the many military graveyards located there. November 11th, also known as Armistice Day, Veteran’s Day and Remembrance Day is dedicated in North America and Europe to the memory of those who have fallen in military conflict. The traditional emblem of the day throughout the Commonwealth Nations and Europe is a blood red poppy, a flower which grows wild in the numerous graveyards dedicated to the fallen of the 20th century’s two World Wars, and as immortalized in the poem commemorating the dead, In Flander’s Fields. (Written, by the way, by a Canadian. We’re everywhere.)

Scottish regimental bagpipe bands wear a quite formal version of the highland costume: the glengarry is a traditional Scot’s hat; the sporran is a pouch worn around the waist to hang in the front and the kilt is a knee-length and manly skirt-like garment with pleats at the rear and woven in a particular clan or organizational tartan color; it is traditionally worn by men in the Highlands of Scotland. A sgian-dubh (pronounced skee-en-doo) is a small, single-edged knife traditionally worn at the top of the mid-calf high socks (hose) of a kilt wearer. Bagpipes are a traditional Gaelic instrument that are based on smaller instruments originally introduced to the Iberian peninsula by the Muslim Moors of  North Africa. They come in many sizes, but the largest and most impressive is the Great Highland bagpipeGoing Home is a tune adapted from the Largo section of Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony (the 9th) as a spiritual hymn.

Thank you for reading In Normandy, in November. 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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As should we all

The last combatant of the Great War died today.
There were others before that, others to come
and more after that from wars yet to be fought.
Who knows?
Well I do, for one.

Weep for him then, he was real. He lived and died
and ended a tale writ in the blood of those now forgot.
No story was theirs of tactics and strategies,
principles and beliefs, rights and wrongs done by.
No photograph, no letter, no film, no story,
no person could tell that dead tale as did he, living.
Who knows?
Well you do, for one.

No one can cry enough for them of a thousand fields
nor curse enough they who put them there.
There has never been a great war, let alone a good.
There have only been wars of rapacious intent
botched before the slaughter started,
botched after the slaughter ended.
Who knows?
Well we do, for one.

It’s not the courage, it’s not the strength,
it’s not the sacrifice, the honor or the glory.
It’s not the fear, the joy, the love or the loss,
the guilt or the luck or the sadness.
It begins with obedience and it ends with endurance
and the rest be damned to hell.
Who knows?
Well he did, for one.
Aye, weep.

I was encouraged to find this old poem and post it out by two posts of JR Benjamin on his blog The Bully Pulpit, here and here. I encourage you to read them.

It is true that the last combatant of World War I is passed on. That story focused my thoughts on the great admiration and compassion I hold for those who fight at times of war, and how it is matched by my disdain for those who cause and pursue them wantonly.

Thank you for reading As should we all. 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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I awoke with a poem in my hands

but it was too dark, too late, too me
to grip it close and so it flew apart,
little wisps of intent flying off to hide
in the nooks and crannies of our room.
There they murmured conspiratorially
and glared down at me accusingly,
pinning me back with their limpid eyes.
Exhausted, I latched on to the hitch of your back
but try as I might I could not hang on
and so spent the night lonely and confused,
refusing to even listen;
I once had held them dear to my heart
but I knew that soon each would depart
leaving me less than whole—Going-going-gone,
so do it already, just go, I thought.
I don’t need you now.

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Damned me if the older I get, the more I realize this is true…

Thank you for reading I awoke with a poem in my hands. 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 quiet tale of a scalpel and a brush

You have a thief’s hands, you do,
a lover’s lips, a liar’s tongue
and a drunk’s sure hand for the cure.
You’re an artist and a surgeon—
how often have I let you
perform your magic upon me,
severing lips from hope, feet from truth
and painting my eyes shut?

I know you, I do;
I know you as I know the way
pain runs slow and sweet
along my broken back;
the way I drain and flow
and mold to your will,
yearning less, wanting more, remaining mute;
the way I lay helpless in your gaze,
anesthetized but oh, so alive
as I stare back, awake and alert,
searching for you, searching for me,
searching for the surcease of I-don’t-know-what,
but searching all the same.
We know, don’t we?

Thank you for reading A quiet tale of a scalpel and a brush. 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 dash, a running leap

As creation myths go, it’s delicious:
the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve,
the apple, the snake, forbidden fruit,
the slaying of Abel and us being Cain’s get,
the tale says it all succinctly:
take what you want, just pay for it.
But this I know for a truth—it was no Fall.

The wonderful thing about myths is that while they may not be history, they are true.

Take what you want but pay for it, says God, is quoted as being a Spanish proverb by several mystery writers, among others, starting with Agatha Christie in 1938. However, I can uncover no further evidence that it is actually Spanish. The earliest mention I can find of it is in the University of the Sate of New York Bulletin of January, 1926. There it is said to be a Persian proverb, The Gods said to the mortals, “Take what you will and pay for it.”

Thank you for reading A dash, a running leap. 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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Just what time is it, anyway?

Silence is neither always good nor bad,
but it is what clings to you late into the night.
My settled wife has stumbled into settled slumber,
a rational thing to do I’d agree, but still,
here I am, bone weary, too drained to get up and join her.

The continent this night got together to turn their clocks
upside down and backside front, and—convinced as I was
to connive in on the madness—I think that explains me
now: I was supposed to fall back and apparently I did,
because whatever time it is, it’s too late for me now.
“Dear, come to bed,” she says.

Find your voice. Rejoice. Pray and listen.
Grab wisdom and don’t be stupid.
I went to bed.

This poem is only a slightly edited version of a posting at my friend, T.’s blog SpeakListenPrayDon’tBeStupid…a blog name that, you must agree, demands love. The post was entitled Find Your Voice! Find Your Voice! And Listen… and it was such a fine read that I asked him if I could write it into a poem.

OK, truthfully, I actually just wrote the poem and asked for forgiveness after, but that’s sort of the same thing. In any event, T. said yes. I love his tag line (it is italicized in the poem), especially the straight up, “don’t be stupid.”

Thank you for reading Just what time is it, anyway? 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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