Tag Archives: death

Not by half

Building detail

I would like to write a poem about the death of Mírzá Mihdí, the Purest Branch,
who burst open the doors of his prison and broke the shackles of an empire.
It would tell of his mother’s grief, his sister’s misery, his brother’s pain
and of course, his Father’s love…

But most of all it would tell of the seven, small, shiny, black beach rocks
with worn, rounded corners found in his pocket and which comprised
all that he possessed in this world. “Where did you get them?” I’d ask.
“What was it about these seven that caught you and held you so that
you’d leave them behind? What were you trying to tell us?”
And then I’d tell of his Father releasing His son from his duties
that hot afternoon, knowing in advance what would happen to him:
that he would go to pray on the windswept prison rooftop;
that he would become enraptured in his meditations;
that he would forget the skylight was there;
that he would fall to his doom and lie there, pierced and broken;
that he would beg leave to offer his life as a ransom,
thereby opening the doors of Reunion;
that He, the Father, would accept, and that, days later, when He placed
His son in the grave, an earthquake would shake the ground so that
He would reveal, thereafter, When thou wast laid to rest in the earth,
the earth itself trembled in its longing to meet thee.

I would like to write such a poem, to eulogize one so perfect, befittingly.
But I am not, I know, good enough to reach into my soul to find it.

up

Mírzá Mihdí, whose title was “The Purest Branch,” was the youngest son of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and His wife, Navváb, to survive infancy. His death happened as described here: falling through a rooftop skylight in the early evening while enraptured in prayer and then offering his life so that the throngs of pilgrims who longed to visit His Father in His incarceration in the prison of ‘Akká—then the penal colony of the Ottoman Empire, but now a small city in Israel—could do so. Previously, pilgrims who had traveled the 1,500 miles on foot from Iran would either be turned back at the city gate, or if they managed to be admitted to the city, would be frustrated to enter the prison. Now, they would be allowed, finally, to enter and tarry therein. Mírzá Mihdí was but 22 at the time of His passing.

I saw the seven, black, shiny beach rocks when I was on pilgrimage to the Bahá’í Holy Places in Israel. I do not think any one thing on that journey moved me more than those simple little stones, except perhaps walking into the prison and suddenly realizing what the roped off spot below the skylight was.

And so thus did I, and so still do Baha’is from the world over, go to that Spot, we for whom the doors of Reunion were, on that fateful day, flung open…

Thank you for reading Not by half. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The quotation from Bahá’u’lláh is quoted by Shoghi Effendi in This Decisive Hour: Messages from Shoghi Effendi to the North American Bahá’ís, 1932–1946 (Wilmette, IL, USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2002) 64.12: 47.

The photograph was taken in ‘Akká during our family’s pilgrimage there. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by 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: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

The quotation from Bahá’u’lláh is quoted by Shoghi Effendi in This Decisive Hour: Messages from Shoghi Effendi to the North American Bahá’ís, 1932–1946 (Wilmette, IL, USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2002) 64.12: 47.

13 Comments

Filed under Poetry

The long wait


IMG_5576

God, but don’t I just know it:
that greedy little glutton
sucks the life right out of you—
all my grandparents, one by one,
then my brother, and now,
Stage IIIB in my father’s lungs.
I mean, one year? What’s that,
with a lifetime to repair?

And what do I do then?

swril2

 

Phil Wilke,  my best friend from Kansas (and just one of the funniest, most genuine and upright guys you will ever want to meet) recently emailed me to let me know that his father had just been diagnosed with Stage IIIB lung cancer. In that email he had written a small haiku detailing his family’s history with the dreaded disease, a poem which ended with “cancer sucks.” I asked permission, which he granted, to work on the poem for the Book of Pain.

I cannot imagine there is anyone left today who has not had a close friend or family member who has been struck by the disease. Even as our ability to fight it slowly increases, so too does its rate of occurrence seem to be increasing. And yet we persevere and support those we love because that is all we know to do.

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

The photograph was taken in Newfoundland, which I visited recently, to visit my ailing father. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Poem © 2014 by Phil Wilke and John Etheridge; all rights reserved. Photograph and notes © 2014 by 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: © 2014 by John Etheridge and Phil Wilke,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

11 Comments

Filed under Poetry

Free to fly

upWhen that first, open-the-elevator-door smell,
that antiseptic, bleached hospital scent hit me,
I thought of Pip, our pet budgie bird.
(I named him that, from Great Expectations,
and hadn’t thought of him in years.)

Bought from the egg with markings down to his beak,
the lines had receded over time; when he died
he looked and moved like an old, bald man.
He went soon after my mother passed
and just after my sister and nephew moved away,
so that for the first time in 40 years my father was left
with a home that was—let’s say the words—deathly quiet.
I talked to him on the day he was bleaching out
the cage and, despite my urging, said he would
never have another budgie; none could equal Pip.

Anyway, the thought passed in a fleeting
second as I stepped out of the elevator
and into Intensive Care to see if my dad
had survived the heart attack,
or if I would find, as I feared,
an empty birdcage of a bed.
It’s funny what you think of when, isn’t it?

swril2

Budgies are small, colorful parakeets from Australia that make wonderful and personable pets. At birth, the line markings on their head go all the way to the beak but recede over time; in Pip’s case his head was pure yellow when he died. The only budgie we ever owned, he was a delightful little creature that my father adored and cared for. Pip lived, I think, to a very ripe old age (for parakeets) of around ten years and was, as I said in the poem, named after the protagonist in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

The ICU stands for Intensive Care Unit, where my father, who is 89 years of age, was taken after his recent heart attack. Last week, we (my sister, her son, and I) had rushed back to his home province, Newfoundland, in Canada, to be with him. Happily, I can report that dad survived the heart attack and at this writing is still, wonderfully with us. I have written several poems about him but the one I love the most is That tree.

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

For my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Poem and notes © 2014 by 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: © 2014 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

2 Comments

Filed under Poetry

What I owe

IMG_3563

Remember that stand of pines,
beyond the rocky hills by your house?
Meet me there. Or if not there, then
on that trail, down the river a-ways,
where the tall grass grows
and the bullfrogs roar in that
funny little way of theirs.
It’s where in the fall the geese come in
light and low at the end of their flight,
tired, not home, but closer.
You must remember it—
down at the end of the road,
past the gate, where the dirt path
rolls on into the old graveyard.
If, by then you haven’t got it,
you can have the rest of it there.

swril2

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

The photograph is entitled Long gone and was taken in a graveyard near Pomfret, CT. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by 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: © 2014 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

3 Comments

Filed under Poetry

It is in the quiet,

NoiseInTheQuiet

in the echoes of five rambunctious kids
pounding pall mall in and out of doors,
up and down steps, slamming the storm door,
Mom, I’m gone!

But now it’s mom is gone and dad is gone
and the porch, home to loud cribbage games,
louder family ‘talks’ and louder yet thunderstorms
sits soulfully silent, the spare key no longer
hidden in the super secret spot of the rusty metal box
on the windowsill. The trick-or-treaters no longer
come squealing up the walk, the chaise lounge
no longer protests under her weight and nor do they
under her eye. Buyers today see only chipping paint,
the splintering wood and the loose screens,
the things that need fixing and not the things fixed.
They don’t hear the wind chimes or the whispers,
the laughter, the tears or the life—that life.
But listen to this quiet and you can hear it,
I remember, and until there is no one left that does,
You are not gone.

swril2

This post is being made simultaneously with a photo essay of the house at the center of this poem, Dick’s not there anymore and posted on the Book of Bokeh.

Dick Brodeur was a wonderful man and we were lucky enough to have him as a friend and next door neighbor from the very first day our family moved to Putnam. What’s more, we were able to meet all of his children (and grandchildren!) and have become especially close with his youngest daughter, Michelle (now Foronda) and her beautiful family as well.

Sadly, last year, Dick—who was well into his eighties, but still boisterous and funny until the end—passed on and was finally reunited with his dear wife, who had passed on before him and whom he missed very much.

On Easter Sunday I was leaving my house and walking by his when I realized that for the last years of his life, even though Dick had slowed down and was not so mobile as he once was, the house had always had a lived in vibe to it, but that now that he was gone, I could sense the quiet and stillness radiating from it, the silent loneliness of a house that had raised a passel of kids as rambunctious as they come, but that now had no more noise to make. I ended up shooting a photo essay of the house trying to capture that feeling and afterwards, in asking Michelle’s permission to post it, she responded not only with a yes but some deep and fond memories of growing up there. Those memories (I merely knocked them into shape) are the heart of this poem.

Thank you for reading It is in the quiet,. 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

Poem © 2014 by Michelle Foronda and John Etheridge; photograph and notes © 2014 by 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: © 2014 by Michelle Foronda and John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

16 Comments

Filed under Poetry

Nod ‘morning’ when you get to Bodie


In praise - Bodie State Park, CA

 

They walked, they talked, they loved and they hated,
spread gossip—or at least listened. Grew up, fell down
and mostly, but not always, got right back up again.
Were pushed and were pulled, were driven and drove back,
were smacked and slapped down—often and hard—
but learned to keep their peace about it, or else.
Some bickered, some didn’t, some drank, some wouldn’t,
some forgave, most couldn’t, but they all cried and laughed
and got together on Sunday to sing His Grace Abounding,
with, on a good day, some extra for the heathens.

Barbers and butchers, buyers and sellers,
leeches—practiced with the bone saw, who’d as soon
kill you as look at you—barkeeps, gamblers,
gunslingers and whores: most came west
because of the War Between the States,
the rest because the best had fallen there.

But in that when—and here in this place—they all came together,
scrabbling for a life, sweating and crying,
birthing and dying, and no one now,
not one today to remember them, any of them,
not a soul to give them voice.
And yet here we all are
and here we all live,
together in this quiet, empty ghost town,
living on the edge of whenever.

up

Bodie is a wild west ghost town in the Bodie Hills, which are east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Mono County, California. Located at an elevation of over 8,000 feet, the summers are dry and cool and the winters bitter cold, conditions that help keep the town remarkably well preserved. The reasons for its abandonment over the years are many, but all tied to gold and silver mining and the economic boom and bust of Victorian aged California. It is recognized by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark and by California as a California Historical Landmark designated as Bodie State Historic Park. The photograph is entitled In praise and is one of two sets of photographs about Bodie that you can find on the Book of Bokeh site, here and here.

Thank you for reading Ghost town. 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.

As I noted above, for more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by 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: © 2014 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

5 Comments

Filed under Poetry

The gardener’s heart

Roses are willful, cantankerous things
with sharp tongues, no patience
and—I assure you—far too much
an opinion of themselves.
They are recalcitrant, mean-spirited,
hold a grudge for eternity
and require constant attention—
which they do their best to ignore.

Bloody roses!

You could take them all, except
(and that’s the issue, that ‘except’)
there are times in the evening
when tamed, shaped, pruned and tied,
they, in their silent serenade to the setting sun
waft onto the night the heavy musk of their ardor
to beg the solace of a shameless, sweet slumber.
And that is when I close my eyes, surrender to the night
and pray that at the end, I too am a rose.

I am not a gardener by drive or inspiration, I am too lazy for that. But I married one and out of love for her I do my best to hold up at least some part of the gardening burden. Because as reluctant as I am to work in them during the day, I equally adore their beauty in the evening. I do a lot of thinking in gardens…

Thank you for reading The gardener’s heart. 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

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

5 Comments

Filed under Poetry

George Harrison’s 12 string Rickenbacker

up

Fit once for merely banging around
it rests somewhere I suppose,
in some display, old, worn,
rubbed and cracked, perfect in every way.
Unable not to, in my mind’s eye, I reach out,
hitting the barrier of glass, if not memory:
and there—innocently enough—it cries, laughs,
is loud but strangely far away, one grand chime,
singing and running, happy once again, once more.
I can always, I thought, if I want, when I do,
be back there for an hour in a second.
But then?

It was a world, but it was just a world
and is a world now going, soon gone,
no regrets—well, some—but that gets you nowhere
so no, none. I smile as I reach out again,
soon gone. But not now, not today,
not yet, not gone.
Play on.

That opening chord and scene of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night: what a perfect memory for that era.  (Not to mention the granddaddy prototype of all music videos!) If you don’t know it, check it out here on YouTube. It was made possible by George Harrison acquiring a unique sounding 12 string electric guitar, made by Rickenbacker. (In fact there were two, an early prototype and a full production model.) It is hard, today, to understand what a powerful and trend-setting effect it had on popular music. For one example: so impressed by the sound was a young musician, Roger McGuinn, that he bought one and founded the legendary 60’s band The Byrds around it.

Thank you for reading George Harrison’s 12 string Rickenbacker. 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

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

2 Comments

Filed under Poetry

The rest is not silence

The greatest jolt that one can bear is the sound of dirt
hitting the casket lid. It lingers long on the air,
echoing the heart’s crescendo and tripping the breath’s staccato.

Listen:
the melody of a life is never sung complete or only in one key,
the end beats are seldom, if ever, in rhythm
and the harmony can be discordant to a degree.
That is why it is left to the rest stops—those blessed little spaces,
those tiny, magical pauses between the major and minor shifts—
where a life beat is best measured and heard aright.
Music is about silence, as death is about life,
or at least, that is what I heard sung that day.

This poem was written for the daughter of very dear friends, who, after a long battle with addiction, lost that fight. She was a dear soul, a generous, kindhearted person and a loving mother, who, like many people caught in her situation, seemed unable to stop or dull an ache that just wouldn’t quit or be denied.

I remember her funeral well. Her mother had written a eulogy that she asked my wife to read on her behalf. It started off, “I remember the first time I looked into your eyes,” and a few minutes later, after recalling many happy and warm times, there was not a dry eye in the room. But when it got to the end and she recalled looking into her daughter’s eyes that very last time as she prepared the body for burial, everyone was bawling. When my wife got back to our seat I asked her how she got through it without breaking down, because I know I couldn’t have done it. “I have no idea,” she said, “Some power came over me to help me.” It was later when she cried.

Reading this you’d think that the entire day was pure tragedy, and I don’t deny that it was sad.  But after reflection it is a sense of redemption that I carry with me now, because that day was also heartwarming. A beloved child, a dear sister, a loving mother was dead; but she was also honored and loved, and that honor and love was poured out in such abundance that day that there was also—or at least there was for me—a sense of understanding, of closure and of letting go with dignity.

Thank you for reading The rest is not silence. 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

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

– 2012.12.01

4 Comments

Filed under Poetry

Long may she reign

Rags, our 17 year old imperious barn cat
was dining at 6 but gone by 9—royalty do
know how to affect a scene, don’t they?
A mouser extrodinaire, it seemed
she would be with us for evermore,
remaining ’til the end a friendly,
loving queen of her domain—
just don’t poll the rodents.

It cannot be denied, however, that her majesty
could be a terrible tease when she wanted:
she loved to regally swish the horses in the face
as she tight-walked the stalls of her kingdom,
and would deign to lie in the middle of the track
because she knew I would go around her,
which of course I did. Muttering, it’s true,
but still, I did it.

Whenever I went to feed the fish in the pond
she would establish her monarchy on that spot
and graciously rule from the bench beside me—
although I was never quite sure if she was there
to survey her realm or was casing the joint for later.
That was Rags.

As she aged we tried to entice her in
on bitter nights but she would hide,
preferring instead her throne in the hayloft
to a warm, cozy retreat in another’s castle.
She was a good cat, was Rags, I’ll miss her,
even more than she’ll miss me, I think,
and I wonder what we will do now without her.
(The rejoicing among the rodents, for one,
is getting out of hand!)

I wrote this poem after reading a charming Facebook post by Gail Dickinson, repeated in full below. In giving me the go ahead, Gail also told me that the friend who originally gave her Rags as a kitten passed away only a month before. Such are the links that bind us.

I confess some inspiration for this poem from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, the inspiration for Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats. Eliot is often extolled as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, but I have to be honest, except for, and because of, his gem on the inner life of felines, the quality of his other work pales to me.

Thank you for reading Long may she reign. 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

Facebook post from Gail Dickinson, 2013.11.24—Rags. Our 17 year old barn cat was gobbling breakfast at 6 am this morning and at 9 am, she was dead on her cat bed in the barn 😦 . She was one of those cats guilty of killing many small mammals, which we appreciated greatly. A friendlier, more loving cat couldn’t be found, rubbing against horses’ faces when she walked along stall walls and jumping into the lap of anyone sitting down outside. She also thought it was funny to lie in the way of the carriage when I was driving in the ring, forcing me to go around her. She knew when I came out with the can of fish food that I would be sitting down by the pond to watch them eat and would jump on the garden bench to wait for me. As she aged we would try to catch her to bring inside on cold nights but after a few successfully tries she started hiding, it seems she preferred a nest in the hayloft to a private room in the house. At least she seems to have gone peacefully. She was a good cat.

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

Facebook posting by Gail Dickinson, © 2013 by Gail Dickinson; all rights reserved; may not be published in any form whatsoever.

4 Comments

Filed under Poetry