In the eye


Haint blue to ward you, so true, so true,
haint blue to draw you, how’d-ye-do, how’d-ye-do!
It’s wicked them nights, could you? would you?
believing you can, knowing you might,
a few, some do, new and renew,
the devil in you— be done! haint blue.
Writ there and then washed clean away.

upHaint blue is an azure paint that slaves and their descendants applied to doorways and windowsills to ward off spirits and is derived from Western African beliefs that water forms a divide between the human and spirit worlds. It is still practiced in the U.S.A. by slave descendants who live in the Georgia Sea Islands and who typically speak the Creole tongue Geechee, or it’s cousin Gullah in South Carolina. (From the article Cabin Fever, Smithsonian magazine, Oct 2013.)



The practice is wide spread and carries on to this day in North Africa as well. I still remember the azure painted doors and windows of the brick and white plaster houses of Tunisia.

Thank you for reading In the eye, and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments. Please consider visiting my photography blog, the Book of Bokeh.


Poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge, The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.



Filed under Poetry

11 responses to “In the eye

  1. I’ll say it again, worthy of “Prufrock.” >KB

  2. I didn’t know what haint blue was before this! Lovely poem 🙂

    • Elizabeth, Thank you! To be honest I didn’t know the term before I read the article in Smithsonian magazine either. As I said, I had seen the painted windows and doors all over North Africa, and vaguely knew that it was done as a long tradition that came from the Berbers of the area, but not exactly why and not under that name. The Arabic name would be quite different anyway, even if I had heard it. Still, the look is very striking and pleasantly mellowing for some reason I cannot fathom. I am not sure how I got from haint blue to blue eyes crying, but I got there!

  3. WowWow. Bro, I am chuckling because poetry has not been in my heart and soul that much until I started visiting your blog, reading your work, and the work of others that you have brought to Book of Pain. I’m chuckling

    because I am actually moved by this poem as I have been by my many others that I have read here, in this place. After I read the comments
    John, I have this condition but I don’t know what it is called. Sometimes I see something, read something, hear something, and I am moved in a way that I cannot describe … cannot put words to. That is the condition: not being able to put words to whatever it is I have experienced. It sort of drives me crazy. The good news is that it usually only happens when I experience something powerful and wonderful. Sometimes I have a slight laugh, because I don’t know what else to do. When I read this wonderful piece, “In the Eye”, I had that slight laugh. Couldn’t grab the words. This is such a blessing to read about Haint Blue, its haunting significance … haunting and beautiful. Creole people … I have never had the chance to meet them, even though many live south of where I grew up in Louisiana … But this is a different Creole tongue, I believe. Good job, Man. Peace, T

    • One of the most interesting (and rewarding) experiences of a poet is to hear how one of your ‘children’ affects people in ways that is different from anything they had intended. The writer puts into the poem what they feel, but others, with different backgrounds, views, emotions, needs, drives, desires see other things and resonate with other feelings. The best poems create a mood or instill a feeling or force an emotional impact…in other words they are active, driving forces, not passive things that sit on the paper. But that force can and should be unique to each person. It’s a tricky balance…a poem should not be so in-your-face clear that it has no emotional resonance or mystery to it, but it should also not be so obtuse so that the reader cannot find an emotional peg to hang their own hat on. I often have reactions to poems I cannot explain or understand but also cannot fact, those are the poems I often love the most!

      In other words…thanks! 🙂

  4. Cool piece! I learned something new today. Thanks for all the background to really put the poem in perspective.

    • Joanna, thank you so much. And I have to say again, that your poem ‘the last poem’ was incredibly evocative and haunting. I look forward ot reading many more.

  5. Barbara Minor

    i like the background, and the poem’s path with the tearing eye picture.

    • Barbara, so very good to hear from you again! It has been too long since we have met and talked…soon i hope at a gathering somewhere.

      Thank you for enjoying the poem and photos. I have started adding them (and usually my own from my Book of Bokeh blog) and think they add a lot. See you again soon!