Category Archives: Poetry

A river flows to the sea

Sometimes, clearly,
it is a mercy.
Othertimes, un-clearly,
it is still.

Recently, a nephew of ours had a health scare. He is, thankfully, out of danger now, but the event got me thinking…

Everyone dies. When that time comes, some who are elderly or infirm are ready, even eager to go; others die untimely, leaving heartbreak and sorrow in their wake. But no matter how or when, the idea we need to hold onto is that the event is, in its own inscrutable and mysterious way, the mercy of God. And in our sorrow, we must allow that thought to comfort us. I acknowledge this is not easy to do, especially when the death is of someone we deeply love, and even more so if they are still young and full of potential. But what is the alternative? Anger? Depression? Doubt? These are poisons to be fled. In the end…

The source of all good is trust in God, submission unto His command, and contentment with His holy will and pleasure.

Thank you for reading A river flows to the sea. 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 Scituate, RI. 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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As my friend lay dying

I looked and there on his wall, from his photos,
we all stare back: him/you/me/we: all of us,
emergent from chaos, unpredictable yet bound,
looping up from within and flinging ourselves forward,
ever forward—reborn with each and every labored breath,
scrabbling for what comes to mind.

Until, I suppose, like him soon enough,
we can’t, or don’t, or won’t, or shouldn’t,
although I believe we do, even then, beyond. We’ll see.
Anyway, this is what I saw so clearly, then,
as my friend lay dying before me.

A dear friend who was, when I first conceived of this poem, dying, has since passed on to his richly deserved reward. He was a dear soul, a dedicated Bahá’í, and the patriarch of a large and loving family.

The question of free will—who we are and what is reality—is of great importance to me. I had been reading Michael Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge (highly recommended, by the way) and the issue was, and remains, much in my mind. This is the issue: where does the physical, deterministic brain end and the sense of the ephemeral self start?

Thank you for reading As a friend lay dying. 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 Killingly, RI. 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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9/11/2001


Say not: There is no God but Allah!
For when those jets plunged into His back,
His Prophet, peace be upon Him,
wept over you and held out His arms to receive you.
Go to Him, children, go to Him,
but without negation: He is God!

Do not suggest that the attacks of 9/11/2001 had a religious motive. That day was a heinous act of betrayal of the true, peace-loving heart of Islam by a band of despicable, evil people whose ego-driven lust of power—and whose use of terror on unsuspecting civilian innocents—was outside all bounds of decency and moral rectitude.

The line There is no God but Allah is called the Shahada, the Islamic creed declaring belief in the oneness of God and the acceptance of Muhammad as God’s prophet. It is the basic statement made to embrace Islam as a religion.

Thank you for reading 9/11/2001. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken of the flag outside of my office. 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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Victims

In the perfect stillness, in the quiet,
over the waste, beyond the silence,
you move. Movement is everywhere:
through the smoke, through the noise,
past the barriers and into the chaos,
to this very day.

You, you innocents,
you are in your perfection, perfect,
and will remain that way forever,
of this there is no doubt—
even after we have long forgot you.

We have too many mass-murder victims. And because their lives are cut short so unexpectedly, to those left behind to grieve, their memories of their loved ones may always be caught up in, and constantly looping through, those last dreadful moments. But to us bystanders, as the years slip by, the truth is we just forget them as people. We may invoke their memories on each anniversary or when the topic arises, but only as a collected identity: the victims of that day’s terrible events. We do not remember them as individuals, ones who had lives and loves and hopes and fears and plans, and who deserve to be remembered that way, not as justification or explanation for what ensued thereafter.

Recently, I reviewed and archived all my poems on the Book of Pain. Some, I realized, were really two poems in one, this being one such. Originally entitled To this very day, that poem was eventually renamed 9/11/2001, the name whereby the other portion of the original still goes by.

The photograph was taken on a trip to Pompeii, Italy. 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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The music we sing together

Like an old phonograph wound down
I am living out of time,
an echo in the refrain of a song
I cannot now recall, but whose tune
grows wearier by the turn.

Our children though, are modern:
they are billions of bits scattered on nets
and copied peer-to-peer
with no loss of resolution.
Do they really think
they can play like that forever?

Thank you for reading The music we sing together. 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 Cranston, 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 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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A force in some known direction

I thought: day has night, and light, dark.
But what has time got? Silence?
Well if so then I am content,
for that is the vector of me:
stillness becoming silence becoming stillness…
in truth, it is all I ever wanted.

By training I am an engineer, so mathematical metaphors often sneak into my poetry. A vector is exactly as it is described in the poem, a force moving in a direction. Think of a wind blowing at 20 mph from the east—that is a vector.

Of all the spiritual verities, perhaps humility—it being a virtue unique to man—is the most essential. With such a posture, one can see the world as it is and not as it pretends to be.

Thank you for reading A force in some known direction. 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 on Long Island, New York. 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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I’m tired of all this indecision

‘Yes!’ say I. Knock me flat, chop me up
and share my raw bits about—
let’s have a grand ole look at this ‘me’ of mine!
Surely I am more than the observant self,
a story I fabricate the while,
effect and cause, more deceiving than perceiving,
bleeding before I decide to make the cut.
And stop this talk of actions and indecisions,
I want to make this slice and do it down to the bone,
because I need to know…
if I am not the me I think I am, then who in God’s Name am I?

The question of free will is of great importance to me. I had been reading Michael Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge (highly recommended, by the way) and the issue was, and remains, much in my mind. It is, I believe, the very pith of the religious experience, and its absence brings into doubt the structure of the whole spiritualization process.

For my part, I still believe in free will but confess that I am intrigued by the subtlety and complexity of how it operates…an issue about which there is, as yet, no clear consensus. But, as this poem proves,  the ‘me’ in me cannot stop thinking about it!

Thank you for reading I’m tired of all this indecision. 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 Killingly, RI on the way to work; no color alteration has been made. 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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To the test

At the end, all we had was hope,
flickering like a taper in the night.
First it began to waver, then to stutter,
next to gutter—finally it gave out with a puff.
The sandstorm then fell upon us like a ravening wolf,
tearing out what little heart we had left.
Outside, we could hear them, calling out loud:
Surely the Book of God is sufficient unto us!
Above, dispersing on the air and adding to the stench,
was that second volley of seven hundred and fifty rounds.

This poem is a re-post, as today is the Anniversary of the Martyrdom of the Báb (translates as ‘The Gate), the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith, which took place in Tabriz, Irán on July 9, 1850. But it is also about a geo-political reality that affects us today, the splitting of Islám into two factions, Sunní and Shí’ah, and how these two historical events are intertwined.

Both stories are complex, but I will try to keep the explanation short. But it is, in truth, a long tale.

The poem is written from the viewpoint of the followers of the Báb, and how they must have felt in those last, heartbreaking hours. The Báb and a companion were martyred when They were hung by Their wrists in a doorway and executed by a single volley from the 750 muskets of an army regiment. It was the second attempt to carry out the executions. The original 750 strong regiment tasked with the deed had mutinied and left after their volley had managed only to cut the ropes that suspended the Báb and His companion in the doorway. The second attempt, was, however, successful. The sandstorm that immediately followed the execution was sufficient to make it seem as if permanent night had fallen on the noonday sun. (The events of that Day are corroborated by European diplomats in the city at that time. A fuller version of the story can be found here on the interfaith site, BeliefNet.com.)

The linkage of the Martyrdom of the Báb to the split of Islám into it’s two main branches is more complex. To understand that, you have to understand how Islám was divided at all.

At root was the question of succession to the Prophet Muhammad, the Founder of Islám. Sunnís believe that the succession was properly followed through the election of a series of Caliphs, starting with Abu-Bakr, a wise, elderly man, a long time personal friend of the Prophet and an early convert to Islám. Such a process of succession would have been typical in any major clan decision in Arabia at that time. Hence its quick acceptance by the majority of Muslims of the day.
The election process was started at the behest of ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, who would go on to be the second Caliph (this is important when it comes to the explanation of the Shí’ah branch of Islám); ‘Umar was a fiery, driven person, who was another early convert to Islám.

Shí’ahs, on the other hand, contend that Muhammad had publicly designated His son-in-law, Alí, as His chosen successor at a sermon given in the last year of His life at the pool of Khum. Moreover, they believe that shortly before His passing, Muhammad asked for writing materials to be brought, so that He could dictate His last wishes with regard to succession, but that ‘Umar had interdicted this request, saying that the Prophet was delirious from His illness, and saying also that “The Book of God [referring to Islám’s Holy Book, the Qur’án] sufficeth us.” This act, Shí’ahs contend, scuttled hope for a unified Islám, caused the separation that still effects the world today, and ensured that ‘Umar himself would one day secure the leadership of Islám, especially since Abu-Bakr, the first obvious choice, was an elderly man.

Today, the Sunní branch occupies the western portion of Islám, up to the northern two thirds of Iráq. The Shí’ah portion occupies the remaining one third portion of Iráq and continues on into the east, through Irán and into Afghanistan. Pakistan, and further into the Pacific, however, reverses this trend and is mostly Sunní. The division point between the two branches explains the current inter-Islám warfare that goes on in the south of Iráq and, therefore, much of the current political turmoil in that country.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and Himself the Leader of the Bahá’í Faith after His Father’s passing, states that the musket bullets used by the regiment to kill the Báb were made from the statement made by ‘Umar as Muhammad lay dying. He means, by this, I think, that the statement, “The Book of God sufficeth us,” (or the Book of God is sufficient unto us as it is cast in the poem) is corruptive in that it put ‘Umar’s personal will over the Will of God. Moreover, the method used—to dignify and justify such an act with reference to the Book of God—is particularly wrong as it coats ‘Umar’s ambition with a false sense of piety. In so doing, and in this context—and at this extreme measure—it is a betrayal and attack on the ancient and enduring Covenant by which God directs man. The consequences of that one act, in its introduction of disunity, still resonates within Islam today.

In the end, what more heinous act can be committed by man than to willingly reject or block God’s Messenger? And what more terrible way to do that than to coat the act as one performed out of piety and kindness?

If you have made it this far, I sincerely thank you for reading To the test with its overlong explanation. 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 at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, CT. 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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Nobody gets to kill you but me


Nobody gets to kill you but me, said your Irish twin.
Too bloody right, just her. Ask bully boy.
You were eight, she was nine and he was,
that day, all of forty-eight stitches from eternity;
she swung a mean shovel, she did—for you.

But damn, her diagnosis took too long.
The surgeries that were botched,
the years that wore on,
the brunt of the pain carried
until it could be borne no longer…
You’ve wept enough, your hands are clean,
let her go, she’s gone; and now we know,
she wasn’t just saying it to you.

Recently a dear friend’s beloved older sister committed suicide after many years of a debilitating and pain-ridden illness. The story in this poem is true: both my friend and her sister were, when children, digging a hole to China (and why not?!) when my friend was accosted by a bully, much to his quick lament because her older sister whoomphed him with her shovel. And ‘nobody gets to kill you but me‘ is exactly what the older sibling—during their many shared escapades—would say to her sister.

Love isn’t always easy; love isn’t always pretty; and love doesn’t always end up or go where you want it to. But it is binding, forever.

Thank you for reading Nobody gets to kill you but me. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at The Grand Canyon. 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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Aunt Vi


She lived down a small hill under the lilacs,
that all-smell of spring and full-shade of summer.
She is, I believe, still there, a flittering wren
in the nest of her doilies and lace
with no noise but from us nieces and nephews.

The rain was loudest at night
because the spare bedroom was under the rafters
and the train ran so close that it rattled the windows,
but you never let go because her fragile never did.
Fifty years on and still she sings to me,
light and delicate, so that there’s a flutter,
when I remember, deep in my throat
where the true self catches and warbles.

My maternal grandfather was married twice. Aunt Vi (for Violet) was the eldest of the first family, my mother the eldest of the second; to my mother, Aunt Vi was more a beloved step-mother than an older half-sister. She would, my mother always say, start cleaning the ashtray before you were finished, if you let her! Aunt Vi tried to make everything perfect around her because she knew how delicate life was; but despite this, she lived her life selflessly. The fact that she and Uncle George had no children, was, I came to understand, the tragedy of all our lives.

I never knew any of my grandparents, so Aunt Vi and her husband George remain the only grandparent figures I knew growing up. She suffered greatly in life and both met and rose above that pain with dignity and grace.  I, and my sister, are profoundly indebted to her for her love and her example, and are proud to cherish her memory today.

I have been privileged to mention her before in two other poems, The Royal Stores and Gone in the blood. Thank you for reading Aunt Vi. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph (from Google maps) is of the spot my aunt’s and uncle’s house used to be. Much road work has been done in the area to level the land and build a road where the train tracks used to run behind their property. I really wish they had re-planted lilacs there. 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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