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 going to die?/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 don’t know what there is to laugh about.

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Tony told me on 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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C’était à Amboise, en Touraine, en France

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There t’was in Amboise, in Touraine, in France
while wan’dring alone, cool and carefree,
that my lover found her soul, as if by chance,
in that place of art, the Martinerie.
Bold and beautiful, brave and full of light,
she saw those tapestries as I see her:
images aglow, images aflight,
images of love, an oath to concur.
Am I that knight errant her patience sought,
my soul to join hers in that holy grail
pledged immortal by that picture she bought?
I fear for my worth, but I dare not fail.
A gift of love is a gift given free,
but the greatest of gifts is the gift that is she.

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Today is Lyn’s and my wedding anniversary, and I cannot think of a better day to re-share this sonnet.

Before we were married, Lyn went on a biking vacation in France. While there at La Galerie d’Art de la Martinerie, 7 bis. Rampe du Chateau, Amboise, en Touraine, en France (tel 47.57.37.51) she bought a beautiful rendering of a tapestry that was an homage to Saint Martin of Tours—he who cut his military cloak in two to give half to a beggar. It so touched me when I saw it that I wanted to describe it, and through it, us, in a poem.

Eventually we had the poem scripted by a professional calligraphist and it is mounted in the same frame with the picture. It hangs now in our bedroom and I have promised our daughter that it goes to her after us. Some things should never end…

Thank you for reading C’était à Amboise, en Touraine, en France. 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.

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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Labour Day

upIt was, I recall, one of only two days a year the mill shut down.
To celebrate their right, the unions would parade wearing caps
of folded newsprint and then host games and races at the local
ball-field, “Come one, come all.” Later, there’d be a boiled dinner,
a dollar a plate. If you knew the who, there was always a case of beer
hidden somewhere, which explained the over loud jocularity.

But it had been a dying practice even before I left. And now
the baseball diamond is gone, the bleachers torn down and the park
that replaced it goes unused. The mill is shut down too, a victim
of much wanting more: the unions, the company, the town. In fact,
I hear they’re going to tear down the empty buildings and rehabilitate
the land, make it like all of it—none of it—was ever there.

Perhaps if they do I’ll walk down to where it was by the river—it always
was a pretty river—because I’ll be one of the last to remember:
the log booms and the spring jams, the sulfur mounds, the chip piles,
the railroad, the loud machines…the men with their wicker baskets
hurrying to beat the whistle. What I didn’t know then…

Maybe, as I stand there, I’ll pick up a rock and skip it across
the water and yell, Hey salmon, it’s your turn again, good luck!
Just don’t forget to give thanks, always give thanks, you have
to give thanks for what you’ve got.
 And remember, much wants more—
that’s the simple why of the world—much wants more, every time.

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I was speaking to my father last year on Labour Day (note the British spelling) and about how it had been a very special day in my little town of Grand Falls, Newfoundland, Canada when I was growing up. The local industry was a newsprint factory (the paper for the New York Times was, for example, made exclusively there) and the right to form unions had been a long, bitter and necessary battle to fight and win. Men were proud of their unions and proud of the prosperity it had bought.

And now? In the modern world, management has won. Labour Day is just an end of summer vacation day where the name, the rights and the history of it are no longer appreciated. My point is not to comment on the status of modern labor rights, but to lament the loss with the past, however good and bad it was.

Thank you for reading Labour Day. 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 in the public domain; 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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