Monthly Archives: December 2013

Closer to you now

The slow steady pace of the slow steady stars,
the mad heady race of the hands ‘round the face
of the clock that first ticked when you were born.
This is the beast that hid in the dark
to chase you and test you and often times best you,
never once ever letting you stop.
Stop.

In the shadows of the flickering candle
the beast stalks you slowly tonight.
The fluttering pulse at your neck,
the gentle rise of your breast,
the heat of your castaway breath…
I am closer to you now
than the blood that flows in your veins.

This poem dates from when I first met my wife. In the intervening years, ”time” is no longer quite the beast it was back then.  As we age we know that we face inevitable decline, but that is the nature of the journey, and it is a wonderful journey for all of that.

The final two lines are based on an Arabic saying, “God is closer to you than your own jugular.”

Thank you for reading Closer to you now. 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

© 2012 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: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

11.23.12

Advertisements

12 Comments

Filed under Poetry

In a smithy

With the ore of your deeds
melted in the crucible of His Name—
with the heat of your desire
glowing from the fan of His Breath—
with the hammer blows of your heart
striking the anvil of His Will—
rest you not content, o smith,
for you have just begun your toil.

Quenched in the chill of separation,
annealed by the fire of faith,
tempered with the blows of duty,
forge you then the sword of your love
and there, upon the keen,
whetted edge of surrender,
sacrifice yourself, o smith,
for now you are finally done:
you know the one is only transmuted to the other
because the other is its twin.

Thank you for reading In a smithy. 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.

6 Comments

Filed under Poetry

The church on the hill

The Church on the hill

I went up the hill to visit the old man who lives there.
“It’s been a long time,” he said, “Since I’ve seen you.”
“Yes,” I said, “I know. But I’d not forgot you.”
Then, in welcome, he sang to me.
But what I had remembered as a youthful voice,
full of vigor and fit for forever, was turned now into a croak,
a rasp, a sad affair of the heart.
When he dies, I thought, a little of me will die with him.
“These bones go deep,” he said with an effort
as he stood there proud yet, “How can you forgive yourself?”
I thought about that as I kissed him goodnight
and laid him down to rest, up there on that hill.
“In nomine Patris,” I said gently, “In nomine Patris.”

“In nomine Patris” (in nom-e-nay pah-tray) is the opening verse of “In nomine Patris, et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.” the Latin used by Catholics to say the sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Although raised a Catholic (I was even once head altar boy), when I was 17 I became a Bahá’í. I had few occasions to visit a church after that, but one such occasion was the funeral of a friend’s brother. That church was up on a hill, but the hill of the poem is not a physical one.

My understanding of this poem has changed over time. My father, who is now 80-something-wonderful visited us some time back. I adore my father for the incredible man he is: the finest example of a Christian I know. But he is also very Catholic and while he has never challenged my conversion, I know it hurts him and he worries over me. In re-reading this poem I realized that what I had also written about was our relationship: loving, strong, but with some hurt and some regret.

Thank you for reading The church on the hill. 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.

The photograph is entitled, appropriately enough, The church on the hill, and was taken from a set of photographs shot in the Poconos. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

© 2012 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: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

2012.11.21

6 Comments

Filed under Poetry

The gardener’s heart

Roses are willful, cantankerous things
with sharp tongues, no patience
and—I assure you—far too high
an opinion of themselves.
They are recalcitrant, mean-spirited,
hold a grudge for eternity and require constant attention—
which they do their best to ignore.

Bloody roses.

You could take them all, except
(and that’s the issue, that ‘except’)
there are times in the evening
when tamed, shaped, pruned and tied,
they, in their silent serenade to the setting sun
waft onto the night the heavy musk of their ardor
to beg the solace of a shameless, sweet slumber.
And that is when I close my eyes, surrender to the night
and pray that at the end, I too am a rose.

I am not a gardener by drive or inspiration, I am too lazy for that. But I married one and out of love for her I do my best to hold up at least some part of the gardening burden. Because as reluctant as I am to work in them during the day, I equally adore their beauty in the evening. I do a lot of thinking in gardens…

Thank you for reading The gardener’s heart. 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.

5 Comments

Filed under Poetry

And so bound

I bought a prayer rug in old Andalusia
but the years have not treated it well,
it lives now only to shame me.

Its pattern is faded, its edges are tattered
and its fibers are torn flesh from bone—
it breathes on, but only so to shame me.

I have wept on that rug, bled on that rug
loved on that rug and died on that rug,
I have worn holes through it from kneeling,
its suffering continues to shame me.

Woven of silk and darned with cotton
then fringed with sound and rhythm,
its warp is of hope but its weft is of weeping,
its beauty is perfect, never waning,
but still it lives on just to shame me.

So what am I?

I am ground, I am sky, I am ache, I am why
I am everything and all and nothing;
I am pride, I am breath, I am lift, I am heft
I am broken
because this simple, small rug, so itself,
so patient, taunts on
and continues so to shame me.

The idea of a Covenant, the process by which man relates to God, is an ancient religious idea within the Judeo-Christian-Moslem-Bahá’í tradition. In his masterful work, Wanderings: History of the Jews, Chaim Potok even describes an ancient Hittite idolatry covenant, showing how ubiquitous the concept was in the ancient world.

To me, the burning question is, “What exactly is the Covenant?” This is a question I still struggle with.

The reference to Andalusia refers to the portion of Spain that was once controlled by Islam during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance  and which was renowned in its day as a kingdom of tolerance, knowledge and enlightenment. Being a land where Islam was practiced, small prayer rugs would have been sold and found everywhere.

Thank you for reading And so bound. 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

© 2012 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: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

2012.12.06

4 Comments

Filed under Poetry

George Harrison’s 12 string Rickenbacker

up

Fit once for merely banging around
but sanctified now, it rests somewhere
I suppose, in some display, old, worn,
rubbed and cracked, perfect in every way.
Unable not to, in my mind’s eye, I reach out,
hitting the barrier of glass, if not memory:
and there—innocently enough—it cries, laughs,
is loud but strangely far away, one grand chime,
singing and running, happy once again, once more.
I can always, I thought, if I want, when I do,
be back there for an hour, in a second.
But then?

It was a world, but it was just a world
and is a world now going, soon gone,
no regrets—well, some—but that gets you nowhere
so no, none. I smile as I reach out again,
soon gone. But not now, not today,
not yet, not gone.
Not yet.

That opening chord and scene of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night: what a perfect memory for that era.  (Not to mention the granddaddy prototype of all music videos!) If you don’t know it, check it out here on YouTube. It was made possible by George Harrison acquiring a unique sounding 12 string electric guitar, made by Rickenbacker. (In fact there were two, an early prototype and a full production model.) It is hard, today, to understand what a powerful and trend-setting effect it had on popular music. For one example: so impressed by the sound was a young musician, Roger McGuinn, that he bought one and founded the legendary 60’s band The Byrds around it.

Thank you for reading George Harrison’s 12 string Rickenbacker. 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.

2 Comments

Filed under Poetry

The rest is not silence

The greatest jolt that one can bear is the sound of dirt
hitting the casket lid. It lingers long on the air,
echoing the heart’s crescendo and tripping the breath’s staccato.

Listen:
the melody of a life is never sung complete or only in one key,
the end beats are seldom, if ever, in rhythm
and the harmony can be discordant to a degree.
That is why it is left to the rest stops—those blessed little spaces,
those tiny, magical pauses between the major and minor shifts—
where a life beat is best measured and heard aright.
Song is about silence, as death is about life,
or at least, that is what I heard sung that day.

This poem was written for the daughter of very dear friends, who, after a long battle with addiction, lost that fight. She was a dear soul, a generous, kindhearted person and a loving mother, who, like many people caught in her situation, seemed unable to stop or dull an ache that just wouldn’t quit or be denied.

I remember her funeral well. Her mother had written a eulogy that she asked my wife to read on her behalf. It started off, “I remember the first time I looked into your eyes,” and a few minutes later, after recalling many happy and warm times, there was not a dry eye in the room. But when it got to the end and she recalled looking into her daughter’s eyes that very last time as she prepared the body for burial, everyone was bawling. When my wife got back to our seat I asked her how she got through it without breaking down, because I know I couldn’t have done it. “I have no idea,” she said, “Some power came over me to help me.” It was later when she cried.

Reading this you’d think that the entire day was pure tragedy, and I don’t deny that it was sad.  But after reflection it is a sense of redemption that I carry with me now, because that day was also heartwarming. A beloved child, a dear sister, a loving mother was dead; but she was also honored and loved, and that honor and love was poured out in such abundance that day that there was also—or at least there was for me—a sense of understanding, of closure and of letting go with dignity.

Thank you for reading The rest is not silence. 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

© 2012 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: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

– 2012.12.01

4 Comments

Filed under Poetry