Tag Archives: ego

And so bound

I bought a prayer rug in old Andalusia
but the years have not treated it well,
it lives now only to shame me.

Its pattern is faded, its edges are tattered
and its fibers are torn flesh from bone—
it breathes on, but only so to shame me.

I have wept on that rug, bled on that rug,
loved on that rug and died on that rug,
I have worn holes through it with my kneeling—
its suffering continues to shame me.

Woven of silk and darned with cotton
then fringed with sound and rhythm,
its warp is of hope but its weft is of weeping,
its beauty is perfect, never waning,
but still it lives on just to shame me.

So what am I?

I am ground, I am sky, I am ache, I am why
I am everything and all and nothing;
I am pride, I am breath, I am lift, I am heft
I am broken—because this simple, small rug,
so itself, so patient, taunts on
and continues so to shame me.

The idea of a Covenant, the process by which man relates to God, is an ancient religious idea within the Judeo-Christian-Moslem-Bahá’í tradition. In his masterful work, Wanderings: History of the Jews, Chaim Potok even describes an ancient Hittite idolatry covenant, showing how ubiquitous the concept was in the ancient world.

To me, the burning question is, “What exactly is the Covenant?” This is a question I still struggle with.

The reference to Andalusia refers to the portion of Spain that was once controlled by Islam during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance  and which was renowned in its day as a kingdom of tolerance, knowledge and enlightenment. Being a land where Islam was practiced, small prayer rugs would have been sold and found everywhere.

Thank you for reading And so bound. 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.

2012.12.06

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If only

Végre nem butulok tovább
is Hungarian for,
“I’ve finally stopped getting dumber.”
If only, I thought…

If only that were true I
would not fool me so often—
shame, double shame on me.

If only that were true I
would not calculate so dear
the zero sum gain of a
positive sum want.

If only that were true I
would, instead, invest in the
future and not in the past
and sum the effort
overcoming what is me,
knowing this to be
the final truth of the heart.

If only.

The quotation that starts this poem came from a posting on the excellent essay blog, the Bully Pulpit, about Paul Erdős, one of the  most brilliant and prolific mathematicians of the twentieth century. Erdős proposed the line as his epitaph, and really, how can you not admire someone with that sense of humor? Or honesty.

The title of this poem was my immediate reaction to the quotation. It still is. It probably always will be.

Thank you for reading If only. 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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Looking down

The road is not a metaphor
and I am no example.
I do not ride to learn or be anything,
or to meet anyone’s approval or goal,
not even—most especially—my own.

I ride for the rhythm,
the flow, the doing,
the hours-on heat glide of it:
the pedal stroke of a boy
who never lost sight of
doing just that, riding away…
not sweating it,
riding away,
left/right,
left/right,
on,
looking down.

The start of this poem was inspired by the opening sentence of It All Becomes Us by Bill Strickland in the August 2013 issue of Bicycling magazine: “The road is not an allegory.”

Every amateur cyclist loves to cycle; it’s too painful a process to repeat to the level where you are comfortable with it, if you don’t love it. But what is there to love?

Thank you for reading Looking down. 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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Who?

I have a friend who’s dying—but don’t we all?
There on his wall, from the photos of his memories
we stare back: him/you/me—all of us, ones among many,
emergent from chaos, unpredictable yet bound,
looping up from within and flinging ourselves forward,
ever forward, remade in each and every labored breath—
until, I suppose, we can’t or don’t
although I still believe we do, even then.

But I’m tired of all this indecision
so ‘yes,’ say I: slice me apart, knock me down
and slap me up there on that wall—
let’s have a grand old 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 the cut.
Do not talk to me of actions and reactions,
I want to make that slice all by myself and do it to the bone.
If I am not the me I think I am, then who in God’s name am I?

A dear friend who was, when I first conceived of this poem, dying, has since passed on to his richly deserved reward in the next world. He was a dear man, a dedicated Bahá’í and the patriarch of a large and loving family. However, while Who? was inspired one evening as we were visiting him at his hospice and I was looking at the pictures of his life that his family had lovingly taped to the wall above him, it is not about him. Perhaps that poem is yet to be written.

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. This is the issue: where does the physical, deterministic brain end and the sense of the ephemeral self start? Where does this illusive ‘me’ come from? Who, as the title says, is in charge? The ‘me’ I think I am, or is it all hard wired in a subtle, but pre-set, brain?

You may think this an idle question, but it is not. Neuroscientests have, for example, shown that the area of your brain responsible for the motor control of raising your arm is excited before the area of your brain that makes the conscious decision to do the action is activated.  Is then, this ‘me’ I know an after thought? A construction of the brain to explain my own behavior?

This is a very scientific question with great spiritual ramifications. Free will is the very pith of the religious experience. It’s absence brings into doubt the structure of the whole spiritualization process, so answering this question is essential. For my part, I still believe in free will but confess that I am intrigued by the subtlety and complexity of how it comes about…an issue about which there is, as yet, no clear consensus, only much conjecture. But, as this poem proves,  the ‘me’ in me cannot stop thinking about it!

Thank you for reading Who? 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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Atomicly

I thought You wanted
the fission of my pride—
the alpha crush of will
and the gamma burst of greed,
those half-lives of ego and conceit.
What You wanted was our fusion.

I didn’t mean it to be when I started it, but this poem ended up being an homage to a quotation from a poem written by Rabindranath Tagore, the brilliant and great Indian poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. It is from his book Fireflies, published in 1928:

While God waits for his temple to be built of love, men bring stones.

Lyn, my incredibly tasteful wife (in all things but john) bought me a small framed calligraphy collage of the quote and it hangs over my desk. It is a beautifully crafted piece, but does not, sadly enough, give any reference to its authorship—a tragedy really, as memory of such a writer should not slip from our conscience. (Thank heavens for the Internet.)

While my poem takes a more personal approach, my own assessment is that it is overlong, clumsy and a country bumpkin when compared to the pithy, terse and emotionally explosive Tagore poem. But on the other hand, there really is no comparison between the two, only admiration of mine for a master at his craft.

Thank you for reading Atomicly. 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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