A service I am now glad to repay

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Patrick died, years ago, in an alcoholic haze of shame, resentment and relief,
wondering, I suspect, where along the path it had all gone wrong,
yet knowing he had no answer. Long ago, he had befriended me,
and when I needed it—but did not expect it—he had been kind to me.
He was my friend.

Do I know as little as he then—me, now, with all my memories?
And will I, like him, question myself down to the grave’s edge?
Yes, probably—we all have our Irish to carry, we poor debtors, we do.
So goodnight, friend Patrick, I am here for you, let it go and sleep well.
You’ve earned it.

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Many years ago, when I had just returned to Newfoundland from Africa, newly married and near broke, Patrick Kennedy hired me to a job that I loved and which set the course of my career. He was a jovial, friendly fellow (among other things, I recall we shared a love for Bruce Springsteen) who was always willing to talk, always willing to help, always quick with a laugh and a quip. To hear recently, after all these years, how bitter and tragic was his end saddened me very much.

John Waters is a well-known Irish journalist who got sober in 1989. He, better than anyone else, has captured the heart of what it is to be Irish:

“Drinking [to the Irish] is not simply a convivial pastime, it is a ritualistic alternative to real life, a spiritual placebo, a fumble for eternity, a longing for heaven, a thirst for return to the embrace of the Almighty.”

I grew up with alcoholics all around me and swore off drink when, at seventeen, I became a Bahá’í. For this and many things else, I have thanked God ever since. I know too well the devastation addiction brings.

Thank you for reading A service I am now glad to repay. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in my home in Connecticut. 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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Gone in the blood

IMG_6943I was ten and David, my cousin,
just then thirteen, was a lost boy…
lost to the parents who uglied him away,
lost again to the younger ones he tried to protect,
lost finally to the madness in his cytoblast,
which copied him/copied him/copied him on,
until it copied him into his grave.
Our Aunt Vi and Uncle George were childless
and loved us nieces and nephews like we were their own,
but David—he was David—special was little David,
so they took him in.
He would have been, I think, more like them
(and, most hopefully, sober like him)
if Goliath had not struck him down.

Wilfred was David’s younger brother and I’ve just spent
an hour sifting through the photos of his obituary.
Fifty-one he was, tired looking with fat jowls
and heavy, bloodshot eyes, a beer by his side
in every photo his family shared of him.
I don’t think that when we lost David
anyone would have said he was the lucky one.
But ‘lost’ is a relative place and once he was gone
he was somewhere safe where he could always be found,
which is not something that, to be honest,
could be said of the rest of us he left behind.

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I once went on a hike with David down by the river near the town where we lived. It is a day that I remember vividly, from a time in my life when I have few memories. I have no specific memories of David being sick with leukemia, or of his dying, or of going to his funeral, or of everyone around me grieving. And yet, all of this must have happened. I can only surmise now, years later, that I just blocked it all out.

I know I admired David—he was older and therefore more daring, after all—but I also remember there always being a cloud of worry about him. Although I was young and knew no details, I was aware in a vague, whispered way that he did not have a happy home life and I knew that was a very sad thing.

God rest you all, my lonely, sad, lost cousins.

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

The photograph was taken on a walk in a local park one fall morning. The empty bottle had been left on the table exactly where I photographed it. By a person? Some people? It had been a party? Loud? Quiet? I don’t know. You never do. 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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Grown up

upAll cherub cheeks he was, too,
our lost little boy, the hero,
brave to try but broken to learn
that a button on a controller
is not a hip swing out on the slopes.
Can you remember it, son?
White, white snow beneath great green conifers
and the sky as blue as dreams, but softer,
the deep, deep air so full of ever and forever?

He’s gone now, you know.
Lost he was, out there, under an avalanche of words—
some true, most not—yet all of them excuses
that still echo down their cold, slippery trails.
It was, I suppose, failures in happanstance—
some simple, most not—but I find myself
wondering, just the same, how it would have
turned out had he stuck to learning
how to snowboard that day.
Would any other dream have been softer?

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At this point, I cannot possibly tell you why it has been so long since I posted a poem. Excuses abound, of course, but at this point they ring hollow, even to me. Who decided when your muse comes and goes? No one, I suppose, but for so long she was always “just…almost…right there…” Close, but not close enough. Anyway…

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

The photograph was taken of some poor hapless soul on a slope in New Hampshire just as he was wiping out, “having a garage sale” as the joke goes. (You wipe out so bad that all your equipment goes hither and yon and you can’t be bothered to go fetch it. Let anyone who makes an offer have it.) 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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I do

LynPraying

God, but what an honor it is
to love and be loved by you!
For me, for you, for evermore
I die to the bright of your soul,
the kiss of your smile,
the glow of your too-often
set upon patience.

Do I love you with all that I can
at the twinge of every second? No.
I love you more than that,
I do.

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For Lyn, of course.

The Bahá’í Faith recently completed its yearly fasting period. The opening lines of the poem came to me when I suddenly awoke at 3:00 AM on the last night of the fast. I remember being shocked with the clarity and completeness of it: having a poem arrive like that is something that rarely happens to me. Although tired, I was able to force myself to stay awake long enough to memorize it, so that it would still be with me the next morning. Thankfully it was!

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

The photograph of Lyn praying at the side of a small river was taken several years ago during a fall holiday to the Poconos in eastern Pennsylvania. 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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That selfie you took

upOff to wherever for whatever, but before we go—
snap that photo in the here and now
and post it to the fast receding, the there and when,
the touch that was, hope fading into forgot…

There we’ll remain with our firm, sure smiles,
left for our heirs to puzzle out,
caught by us in their time as were we in ours at the try:
whatever did we think we had to look forward to?

This is what ties us, each generation, one to the other—
no one understanding the race (going/going/gone),
or that determined moment we thought so real,
sent before us just the same, almost as if by accident.
What was it I thought I was saying?

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I was struck recently by an article discussing how fast we are loosing the World War 2 vets. In the United States, 16 million men and women were in uniform for that conflict, but now less than a million are alive. Their median age today is in the mid 90’s. Those who still remain are dying at a rate of 500 a day.

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Look at them. So young and confidant, so sure of the pure reality and timelessness of their moment and now fading, almost gone…and we who remain, no matter how hard we try, we cannot grab their moment, their reality.

And what does that say to us of our so-real-to-us, reality? Much, I think.

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

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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That day Spaz tried to kill me

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It was spring break, we were at the movies, and I hurt with the
“hands-around-my-throat, can’t-breathe” type of hurt
I was laughing so hard. Finally, I managed to get enough
air to gasp pleadingly for him to stop—and that is when he
flicked his box of popcorn in my face. If it had been funny
before, it was hilarious then and I remember ending up on
the dirty, ticky-tacky floor of the theater, wheezing and wondering:
is this it?/am i dying?/what will everybody think?
And as God is my witness, that only made it funnier.

It turns out that at that point Spaz had already lived over
half of his life, while I only a third (thus far) of mine.
What fairness is that?
Perhaps that is the point—my point, or his point to me—
or at least someone’s point to someone.

Because the funny thing is, I can hear him laughing as I write this—
my little buddy, laughing—and all I want to do is laugh with him.
And as God is my witness, I’m still not sure what we’re laughing about.

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Tony told me at our first meeting (we were in university together, taking our engineering degrees) that ‘Spaz’ was his nickname. I could go on and on about him, but the simple truth is that he was a wonderful person and I loved him very, very much. He was a good and dear friend and I cherish all those years we were together.

The tragedy is that we had not spoken since shortly after we graduated; my moving to Africa did that to many relationships. And yet, when I recently heard from a fellow classmate that he had died at the very young age of 40, still, I was very saddened by it. As my mother often said, “Only the good die young.” That’s not true, of course, but what is true is that we get to regret their passing for far longer than if they had not.

And that story about us going to a movie and me feeling I was going to die from laughing? Absolutely true. That was Spaz.

Thank you for reading That day Spaz tried to kill me. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at Wolf Den state park in Connecticut.  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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An early fall walk in the evening

IMG_6684What I remember best is the sharp smell of wild grapes
carried aloft in a warm updraft, their sharp tang a hint
of the coming winter, when their leaves would be withered,
their vines dried and their roots driven deep into slumber.

I know they don’t, but I wonder anyway—do they dream
and look forward to a wet spring and a warm summer?
Do they yearn for another year, to bear again their bitter fruit?
Do they think about waking, and then, knowing that they are awake,
do they bask in the knowledge that they are the good creation of a
good God, aright in their place and placed aright by love’s design?
So much living, I think, for such a little tang on a last warm night,
there and then gone in a quick waft of air. But by then I’ve moved on
and am thinking, was it ever there at all?

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It was actually on a bicycle ride when the scent of wild grapes hit us, so it is a small exercise of my artistic license to switch it to the simpler idea of a walk. It so happened that just after the grapes we climbed a miserable hill, the kind that is fun to mock afterwards but which you dread before you go up it—the long, steep and panting kind. But still, I was grateful: that hill afforded me a lot of time to think about those grapes.

Thank you for reading An early fall walk in the evening. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph is of some wild grapes in the fall, taken at the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts. 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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