Tag Archives: desire

The ride

Whirlygig

When first she put her leg over the motorcycle
and clung onto the rat bastard’s strong
and shapely back—when first she felt the thrum
of the powerful engine between her legs and
felt the intense surge when he gunned it—
when first she felt the rush of the pull
and threw herself all in with abandon
(so that she was giddy with knowing that this was it,
that this, just this—this was what she had wanted
all along) even then, knowing that the crash
was sure to come, knowing that she would break
everything she had to break, knowing that
she would lose everything that she had to lose
and more, much more besides…even then,
knowing all this from the start,
the anticipation was awesome,
just awesome.

swril2
A person’s life choices are never anything to comment on or to judge because life and its decisions are so personal and none of us are perfect. Put trying to tease apart the process, to understand how it is that we drive ourselves and how we face the world…to do that is universally human, and I trust, forgivable.

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

The photograph is entitled Swing! and was taken at my home in Putnam, CT. It is the rotating pendulum going all a whirligig at the bottom of a clock. 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.

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A quiet tale of a scalpel and a brush

You have a thief’s hands, you do,
a lover’s lips, a liar’s tongue
and a drunk’s sure hand for the cure.
You’re an artist and a surgeon—
how often have I let you
perform your magic upon me,
severing lips from hope, feet from truth
and painting my eyes shut?

I know you, I do;
I know you as I know the way
pain runs slow and sweet
along my broken back;
the way I drain and flow
and mold to your will,
yearning less, wanting more, remaining mute;
the way I lay helpless in your gaze,
anesthetized but oh, so alive
as I stare back, awake and alert,
searching for you, searching for me,
searching for the surcease of I-don’t-know-what,
but searching all the same.
We know, don’t we?

Thank you for reading A quiet tale of a scalpel and a brush. 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.

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The sad, dark tragedy of Fritz Haber

Bread from air and blood from kith and kin,
nitrogen, chlorine and gold: all the elements
of a wicked good story, tears included.

Lift up, fall down, cut and combine,
put the pressure on and never let up;
push for this, grasp for that
angle to be arrived at, to be
more than just ‘me’, a ‘him.’
As for the rest,
dulce est decorum est
the darkest of the darksome roads.

He thought it was about knowledge,
but it wasn’t. I can hear him now:
Only Eden matters, it’s where I am going
and taking me and mine—
just there, just now, just watch, see?
I made it, just me, alone, I made it…
that’s me. That’s me!
That’s him.

This poem was written in response to the tragic and horrific Fritz Haber story, told in brief below. It deals with the consequences of being willing to pay any price for knowledge and for personal advancement and recognition. True in the Book of Genesis, true in Faustus, it is still true today.

The first line is based on the brilliantly titled Bread from the Air, Gold from the Sea, a BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play production on the Fritz Haber story, aired in February of 2001.

Dulce est decorum est pro patria mori (DOOL-kay eh de-KORum eh pro PAtree-ah Mor-ee) is Latin and means, it is sweet and right to die for one’s country; they are the opening lines of an ode by Horace. Widely quoted in Britain in the run-up to, and during, World War 1 (and with derision thereafter) Dulce est Decorum Est, which deals with the utter horror of chemical warfare, is a brilliant and moving poem by Wilfred Owen, a young British poet who experienced it first hand and sadly, did not survive through to the Armistice.

The Sad, Dark Tragedy of Fritz Haber

At the beginning of the 20th century, the world was in a quandary: where would it get the food to feed its exploding population? Plant cell walls need nitrogen to grow, but there just wasn’t a sufficient natural supply of the element available. Haber, a German physicist, developed a process to synthesize nitrogen from the air, where it is abundant, by using a high pressure containment vessel. The product, ammonia, in turn went on to be the base for both the agricultural fertilizer business and the manufacture of explosives.

It is fair to say that at least half, and perhaps up to 70%, of the current world’s population could not be fed without this process for the production of artificial fertilizer. One hundred percent of all ammunition gunpowder also uses it. For this work, Haber was awarded the Noble Prize in Chemistry in 1918.

Both Fritz Haber and his wife, Clara, were Jewish-German and born in what is now Poland. They converted to Lutherism early in their careers (Clara was also a physicist and one of the first women to be awarded a PhD in Germany) to open up academic opportunities. For his work, and despite his rather nondescript personality, poor social connectivity and religious background, Haber was appointed the head of a prestigious research institute.

It was the advent of World War 1 (1914-1918) that turns the Fritz Haber story so dark. Passionately patriotic and wanting to grow into his new social status, Haber convinced the German High Command—in contravention of the Hague Convention of 1907, to which Germany was a signatory—to implement chemical warfare. He not only developed the chlorine gas used in the first chemical warfare attack at the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, but personally played a role in its release. Caught unawares, six thousand Allied troops died a horrible, sickening death and opened a series of tit-for-tat chemical attacks and counter attacks (for the Allies quickly retaliated in kind) that saw tens of thousands on both sides die horribly.

For this act, Haber was personally awarded the rank of captain by the Kaiser, a rare honor for an aging, non-military academic. However, returning home for a day of rest, Haber had an argument over his actions with his wife Clara, who accused him of losing all moral credibility. Late that night, in grief over his actions, she committed suicide with his new service revolver. She was found the next day by their only child, Hermann, a 13 year old boy. Hermann would later immigrate to the United States and would himself, in 1946, also commit suicide over the shame of his father’s chemical warfare work. Unrepentant, and despite his wife’s suicide, Haber left that same day for the Eastern front, there to again participate in a test chemical attack on Russian troops.

If only the story ended there, but it doesn’t. Haber returned to work after the war, and in an attempt to quickly re-pay the humiliating German reparations demanded by the Allies, worked on a process to purify gold from seawater, a scheme which was held out with great hope at the time but which was eventually proven to be a total failure. Later, in protest over the firing of Jewish academics under his patronage, and also because of his own own heritage, Haber was forced out of his academic position and leadership by the Nazis. Haber left his homeland and immigrated to England, where, owing to his background in chemical warfare development, he received a cold reception. He died in 1934 of a heart attack in a Basel, Switzerland hotel while en route to taking up a teaching post in Israel.

It was after this that the final chapter of Haber’s full legacy played out. In the 1920s, at his research institute and under his direction, his team had developed Zyklon A, a cyanide (chlorine plus nitrogen compound) gas pesticide used as a fumigant. Years later, and because of its high toxicity, the Nazis requested that this gas be reformulated to remove its artificial, warning smell. It was, and Zyklon B went on to precipitate the Holocaust as the gas used in the concentration camps and was, in the end, responsible for the death of millions of people, mostly Jews, but also Slavs, Gypsies and some political dissidents. Many of Haber’s relatives from his home region, and certainly many of his friends, were part of the roundup and sent to the camps.

All because what Haber really wanted, I suspect, was to be accepted.

Thank you for reading Knowledge. 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.

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Floating

Cathedral Rock, Sedona, AZ

 

A giddy drunken laugh of pure melodic thought,
the musk of a scent floating in the dusk,
an impression, a vagary,
an echo of an image, a reverie,
the memory of a sweet soft sigh.
We are this silence,
this dreaming, this evening
we are this silence,
just now.

This poem is dedicated to my wonderful wife, Lyn, and to the incredible time we had in Sedona, Arizona for the last week. For my foreign readers, who may not know about this fabulous treasure, Sedona is an artist’s community/vacation area in the heart of the American Southwest dessert. It is a few hours drive south of the Grand Canyon and a few hours drive north of Phoenix, Arizona.

While we were in Sedona, we ate well, slept well, did some running, some hiking and some mountain biking, and all-in-all relaxed and had a wonderful, calm and romantic week. If only it need never have ended…

Thank you for reading Floating. 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.

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Where you draw your line

No matter how short you think it is
told true, the trail is always long.
If you want to know what it all means,
it means exactly and only what you think it does:
you do not hike a path, you blaze it as you go.

So do not talk of the distance you’ve trod
but of the way you’ve left to go.
And if by that you think I am telling you
what I want, you are correct: I want exactly
and only what you think I do—
you do not want in vain, it burns you as you go.

This is how I make the miles of a long hike disappear, by writing poetry in my head. It doesn’t do a lot for my practice of mindfulness, but it sure can make a trail go faster.

Human beings are such curious things. How much do we yearn to be safe and careful and free of worry and doubt? How much do we fear the unknown, when it is in the unknown that we find our strength, our purpose? How often do we do and want things that are inimical to our well-being? I am as puzzled by me as you are by you and as we all are by each other.

Thank you for reading Where you draw your line. 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.

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