It goes with the territory


I heard she made her kids promise to cremate her,
anything-but-anything not to go into the cold ground alone.
I remember I was young, but old enough—
now think it through, vice versa
to know how transitory it all was:
the heat and she in just her bra, her kids looking scared
while she smoked her long thin menthols and asked me
for a glass of ice water.

I wouldn’t, today, know any of my cousins twice removed,
nor have a clue, life being what it is, to their scatterings
and shatterings, or what they embrace and what they cannot.
But I recall how slippery that glass was
with the condensation running down my back
and how the ice didn’t rattle as I handed it to her,
although it was a near thing. Now I rather think it might,
not that I care where they bury me.


Thank you for reading It goes with the territory. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at Benjamin Franklin’s grave in Philadelphia, PA. To see my photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh blog.


Photograph, notes and poem © 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: © John Etheridge, The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its copyright owner.


Filed under Poetry

29 responses to “It goes with the territory

  1. This one gave me chills!

  2. This is excruciatingly brilliant~

  3. Pete Hulme

    This holds its uncertain threats in suspended animation beautifully!

  4. Barbara Minor

    I love words that speak the truth…even about being buried..we wonder about these things, as, it is what makes us human. You write this helping me to remember how I let words slide off the edge, just like the glass of cold water

    • I let words slide off the edge…Barbara, you should be writing your own poetry…that is a beautiful and expressive line that I will, no doubt, someday, steal…ah, ‘borrow.’ 🙂

  5. It’s your interplay of selective memories that makes this an intriguing poem for me to read and reread. Thinking…it blooms. Smile.

  6. Slippery glass with ice that didn’t rattle–great imagery–I’ve been there.

  7. Powerfully written, moving me to tears. I just lost my Dad and he was cremated. Your imagery is brilliant by the way. Gloriously so! Thank you! ❤

    • Amy, I am so sorry for your loss. I too lost my father this year. And then, right after that, the president of the company I work for…who was like a father to all of us. I cannot begin to say how much I miss them both!

      • How my Heart does go out to you, my friend. I’m still reeling some days regarding my Dad. You have suffered a double loss, which I cannot even begin to fathom. My Empathy truly goes to you and all who are staggering under this great loss. I pray that really good things come out of this tragedy! I have poured myself into my photography and in so doing, my work has developed an intense edge to it, something that was not there before my Dad died. So I am seeing good come out of this huge hole in my Life, but that still doesn’t mean I miss him so darn much!!! BIG (((HUGS))) Amy ❤

      • The measure of a person is not how much tragedy they can support, but how much they use it to move them. And I agree, your photography, which always was good has got even better! I’m jealous!! 🙂

  8. I used to be worried about being buried, but now I don’t think about it. It is inevitable.

    • To be honest, I do not fear death so much as I fear life. I have seen people with some incredibly difficult lives and it amazes me that they can endure under such pain, woe and misery.

      • And I wonder how they kept sane through their difficulties?

      • While my mother and my aunt (actually she was a cousin but I grew up thinking of her as an aunt) I was sort of kept up on their lives. One of her children lost his arm in a car accident and I wrote him a letter which, when he responded, he said it was the kindest and most supportive words that he had ever heard…but to be honest, sadly, today I cannot even remember his name. That’s awful, I know, but that is life. In any event, I wish them all well! 🙂

  9. Wonderful. To deal with a multitude of ideas and emotions with such subtle flow, the way memories are. What jumped out at me was in the beginning the notion of cremation, and for me the scattering of ashes, and towards the end, ” as to
    their scatterings and shatterings” which as I look at it now think of the ashes in the vase, that is tipped over and shatters. [And I too want “anything but anything not to go into that cold ground alone”]

  10. I like how vivid the memory seems, and how she comes off as quirky from just a few lines that serve other purposes too… Really wonderful read, John 🙂