Monthly Archives: November 2018

Gadfly


If you could slow and watch a penny drop,
see it spiral on its way down,
look at it flash from both sides ’round,
listening before it hits the ground…
then you might have time enough to think,
That’s what I’ve been doing wrong, all along!

I would laugh but for the tears:
more compassion—not less—especially for those
who deserve it the least,
they who I would despise the most.
For I am an ocean and they are not
and their bitter drop would be as nothing to me,
while my surge, will I hope, drown them,
or so it is I believe.

I am the gadfly that spurs your noble steed to action.
– Socrates, paraphrased, at his trial, per Plato in the Apology dialog

I recently posted Pain in a Blind Eye, a poem that captured my distress at the recent murders which took place in a Jewish Synagogue in Pittsburgh. That event, and too many others like it, had left me rudderless and unable to cope with it. It was not until I read Pete Hulme’s Everybody Means Something blog that I started to get a glimpse of what was wrong. He says there, The wider we set our compass of compassion, and the deeper our wisdom becomes, the less likely are we to be fearful, threatened and reactively aggressive. When something disturbing happens and it’s a drop in the ocean you feel no fear. When something happens and it’s a drop in a thimble, all hell spills out.

In that one passage, he helped articulate a response that I was groping for but could not form, a balance that I needed but could not achieve. Our society is so divisive and polarized, the forces of disintegration and disunity so immense, the perpetrators of fear and hate so brazen and bold—it is all too easy to wearily succumb to them. But not if you can be an ocean of compassion to their anger and their tragedy.

To have compassion is not to forget, to condone, leave broken or let remain unpunished. It is a concern for the sufferings of others—all others—and that starts with striving to understand and to forgive.

PS: If you read Pete’s original post you will note that I even stole his ‘an important penny dropped’  line as a metaphor for seeing both sides of a situation. It turns out that I am as grateful as I am despicable, but there you go—I’ve said it before: originality is merely undetected plagiarism. 🙂

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

The photograph was taken on my phone. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem, and notes © John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Work 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,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

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Pray

She wept the river that runs to the sea
to bring the fishermen home, says one.

And when, says another, the sun would not rise,
it was she who swallowed the night.

Yes, yes, says a third, the world had grown wicked
and no wind was strong enough to break it.
With one exhale, she cleansed the town,
so the bread of the poor could leaven.

They nod as one, We’ve heard this too,
surely it must be true!

What would we do without her?

Recently, I reviewed and archived all my poems on the Book of Pain. This poem grew out of a discarded portion of a draft for It’s theirs, after all, and paid for. In re-reading that early version, I realized it could stand on its own. I hope you like it…

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

The photograph was taken at the Musée de la Mer on the Île Sainte-Marguerite, the largest of the Lérins Islands, just off the coast from Cannes, France. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 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,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

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Thanksgiving Day blues


I pulled a roasted turkey from under my coat,
a bowl of gravy too;
a plate of mashed potatoes slid down one sleeve,
candied yams down the other;
rolls and cranberries came from out of rear pockets,
a veggie casserole from under my sweater.
The pies—there were three—I kept hidden,
tight under my hat.

So please, Mr. Crazy-man
with that rage behind your gun
and all your whispers and your doubts,
don’t kill us, we don’t want to die just yet/not yet.
Listen: I am your brother
and I love you with all the depth and breadth
of everything I have to offer.
So please, sir, sit and eat, before you do something
I know I already regret.

The world is rife with worries and terrors. But within the United States, the situation is aggravated by the fact that it is so easy—too easy— to legally obtain a high caliber, fully automatic weapon with a large magazine. All in the name of logic-defying ideology. Recent years, and in particular, recent months, have seen too many incidents of senseless, public mass murder. I am learning that the only way to hold onto my humanity and not fall into a well of despair is to strive to develop a sense of compassion for the ones who feel driven to do such awful deeds.

Given that we will soon be celebrating Thanksgiving Day—in the United States the most family-oriented holiday of the year—I thought a poem summing up my thoughts would be timely. I hope you like it.

Thank you for reading Thanksgiving Day blues, the title of which is an homage to Auden’s Funeral Blues. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The image is Norman Rockwell’s iconic Freedom From Want. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Poem and notes © 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. The attribution claimed under the license is: © John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Shame at the grocery store


There were too many simple carbs in her cart,
too much fat, too many nitrates, too much salt—
and all of it bound up with too many additives
to keep everything “wholesome” and “fresh.”
Too few vegetables (and those canned)
no whole grains, no fruits, no greens,
and her toddler mixed in for minding.
Typical.

That child, for his part, was too demanding
of this too-fun thing and that too-treat thing
and had managed to fuss much of it into the cart.
But then his mother went full-on melt-down
and yelled at him to SHUT IT OR ELSE!
because she had to decide what to return,
there not being enough stamps on her EBT card.

Later, as I walked to my car
I saw her holding her child and weeping—
all-in, no-holds-barred, shaking and shuddering weeping.
I only tore my gaze away
when I saw the little boy’s eyes tracking mine.


It is my great fear that instead of eradicating racism in our society, we have bolstered it with its new flavor, classism. Ask any single, struggling mother of any color how our society treats her and you will hear stories that too eerily mirror the way visible minorities have always been—and are still being—treated. We were supposed to be getting better, not worse…

The events in this poem did not happen, at least when I was involved, but are still very much true-to-life.

Thank you for reading Shame at the grocery store. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in a local grocery store. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 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,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

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Mercy me


Back-and-forth 
is pessimistic,
I prefer to-and-fro,
best foot forward first.

But damn me if it’s not become
who I am anyway—
the worst of all my willies
amid the wonder of it all:
the failure of intention
before the gasp of redemption.
There, I’ve said it: God save me!

I try to take nothing for granted. I try to remember that whatever I have, whatever I am, where I am, who I am with—these are all gifts, and that the best stance that I can take is the only truly perfect human stance there is, humility. Not that it is easy or that I often succeed. Still…

Thank you for reading Mercy me. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in Palma de Mallorca, the capital of the largest of the Balearic Islands of Spain. The young man was a marvelous, gifted musician and the setting perfect. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 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,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

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As should we all


The last combatant of the Great War died today.
There have been warriors who died before this,
others who will die hereafter
and some unborn who still await their turn.
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 dead soul could tell that 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 those 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, botched during or botched soon after.
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.

November 11th, 2018 (Armistice Day in the US, Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth) marks the 100th anniversary of the cessation of combat of World War I, The Great War, The War to End all Wars. In memory of that event I am re-posting this poem.

The last combatant of World War I, Claude Choules, died on May 10, 2011. That news, when it broke, 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 armed conflicts 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.

The photograph was taken in Warwick, Rhode Island. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 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,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

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Who teaches, learns


IMG_1900_1_2_3_4

Who loves, gives; who yearns, takes.

To see this weary world,
to hear it weep its hope,
to speak of it more sweetly
than typically is my wont.
Surely this is the way of it—
not beng me (that usual me),
blind, deaf and mute.

So breathe deep
the full thrum inside,
be joyous, be radiant—but be.
Qui docet, discit.


swril2

Qui docet discit (kwee DOE-ket DEE-sket)  is Latin for “who teaches, learns.”

This is, I have discovered, invariably true. Anyone who has ever given a talk, taught any subject or facilitated any gathering, generally derives more benefit by that active role than anyone else. The point is, that to make something clear to others, you must first make it crystal clear to yourself, and that when you teach, you vibrate with the love of the topic. Without that you are not teaching, you are lecturing.

Thank you for reading Who teaches, learns. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in Norwich, Connecticut along the Shetucket River.  To see my photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh  blog.

john

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,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its copyright owner.

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