Tag Archives: empathy

Ian Hamilton’s “Home”

This weather won’t let up. Above our heads
The houses lean upon each other’s backs
And suffer the dark sleet that lashes them
Downhill. One window is alight.

‘That’s where I live.’ My father’s sleepless eye
Is burning down on us. The ice
That catches in your hair melts on my tongue.

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I have previously posted several of Ian Hamilton’s poems, who I believe to be one of the best poets of the second half of the 20th century. It is a tragedy that his work is not better known and that his Collected Poems is out of print.

Note the brevity here, yet too the intensity of emotion, the sense of darkness out on the edge, the quick sense of joy that fades too quickly. All vintage Hamilton, all excellent and all evocative.

Click here for a list of the other Ian Hamilton poems on the Book of Pain.

For more on Ian Hamilton, I refer you to his Wikipedia page.

Thank you for reading Ian Hamilton’s “Home”. 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

Comments © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved.

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Ian Hamilton’s “The Storm”

Miles off, a storm breaks. It ripples to our room.
You look up into the light so it catches one side
Of your face, your tight mouth, your startled eye.
You turn to me and when I call you come
Over and kneel beside me, wanting me to take
Your head between my hands as if it were
A delicate bowl that the storm might break.
You want me to get between you and the brute thunder.
Settling on your flesh my great hands stir,
Pulse on you and the then, wondering how to do it, grip,
The storm rolls through me as your mouth opens.

As many of you know, I have previously posted several of Ian Hamilton’s poems, and in fact, intended to stop at his Prayer. But I have continued reading his work and cannot stop myself from posting a few more of his poems that I have come to admire.

This is an incredible poem. It builds tension so quickly that it really does feel like a storm is coming. But it is the interaction between the two characters of ‘the voice’ and ‘the other,’ that is amazing here. The voice calling for the fearful other, the gentle touching, the clear insight into the fear that is felt. Obviously there is kindness, empathy, love and trust, but then, at the end, as with all of Hamilton’s poetry, total and complete honesty and the explosion of an unexpected reality of pain, sorrow and regret.

I am not sure what the storm really was, although I suspect it is Hamilton’s first’s wife’s mental illness. But it doesn’t matter. This poem is so cathartic in nature that it expands into all human existence. Anyone who has loved and felt the beloved’s pain understands this poem well. All too well.

Click here for a list of the other Ian Hamilton poems on the Book of Pain.

For more on Ian Hamilton, I refer you to: his Wikipedia page.

Thank you for reading Ian Hamilton’s “The Storm”. 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

Comments © 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved.

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La Jornada del Muerto

Everybody walks the path of the dead,
some more often than others.
There are those who would extol it
for its majesty, its core of brutal simplicity,
but not me—the sere of the sun,
the drudgery of the trek,
the pitilessness of the far-off horizon…
some deserts are just too deep.
Death is not swift here, it prefers to linger
and slither along beside you, judging.

So don’t ask the weary foot sloggers
the why of their tears—they don’t know,
nor the how of their laughter—it isn’t.
Just let me say this as surely I can:
of all that is beauty,
of all that makes beauty sweet and sad,
to me, they are, there, on that trail,
the most beautiful that can be.

La Jornada del Muerto actually translates as “the single day’s journey of the dead man.” I exercised some poetic license to translate it as “the path of the dead.” It originally referred to a 100 mile stretch of totally barren dessert along the route the 17th century Spanish Conquistadors used to travel from their headquarters in what is now Mexico to the furthest northern limits of their North American empire in what is now New Mexico.

I first read about La Jornada del Muerto while my wife and I were driving through New Mexico, en route from Kansas to El Paso, Texas to meet our just-born first grandson. He is a strapping and handsome brute today and a wonderful and kindhearted young teenager (we, of course, take all the credit for this without having done any of the hard work to make it so) which gives you some indication of how long an idea can sit with me before I deal with it in a poem.

The poem was written with the trials and tribulations of a very dear friend who is courageously fighting depression clearly in my mind and deeply in my heart. Que tengas buen viaje!

Thank you for reading La Jornada del Muerto. 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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If you are reading this, then…

No cause is without its innocents,
its families loved and lost,
no truth lacks its heroes
nor doom denied its cost.

I don’t ask why, but how,
not where, but when,
for surely the irony of it
will break you:
brutal and bloody or
slow and steady,
yet gladsome all the same.
Who?

Truth be told, we are such pity inspiring creatures. So easy to hurt and to damage, so fast to fall when struck, so quick to damage when hurt. And we are so finely interconnected that when one is felled, the pain radiates outward like ripples in a pool, affecting all those who love the stricken.

Go to any Amnesty International meeting. There you will hear the heartbreaking stories of the tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience who are held, imprisoned, beaten, tortured and killed for their beliefs. There you will imagine how their families feel, how they live in fear and horror every day of their lives. My religion, the Bahá’í Faith, has not escaped this. There are, right now in Iran, nearly 100 of my fellow co-religionists in jail for no other reason than their religion.

And yet all these prisoners of conscience do it. Why? Surely there is nothing easier then recanting a belief, especially with your freedom or life being risked. But yet they hold fast and in the end, it is you and me who reap the reward for their strength and determination.

What is “sacrifice”? Surely it is to give up something of greater value for something of lesser value. But what if that act returns more than what was given up? What if it returns oceans of grace, mountains of love and an eternal sense of felicity? And not just to the recipient, but to the whole world? Is it still “sacrifice” or something far greater?

We must be diligent in our memory of the world’s prisoners of conscience and in our appreciation and understanding of their gift. And we must understand that it is they who change the world and make it into a better place. Them. Only them.

Thank you for reading If you are reading this, then…. 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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In the wind

She moves, I think, through haunted air distractedly,
while everyone else, madcap, breezes by,
quit now of worry and missing the memories and hopes
that lie thick all around, lingering.
But what breaks her heart is, I fear,
what left her for dead in the first place,
so I pray
that it’s not over—and yet it is,
that it’s not over—say what you will,
that it’s not over—you are not drifting,
I will stand with you wherever you land.

A major life changing crisis is a difficult thing to survive and manage. The feelings and emotions are so intense and the risks so very real. But once it is over—well that’s the question, isn’t it—is it ever really over?

Certainly from the viewpoint of people on the outside of the event there may come a time when, for them, the crisis is past and life returns to normal. But for the person at the apex of the crisis it continues to be not just what they went through, but what in the end it means to them going forward.

Such were my thoughts when thinking about a dear friend who had gone through such an event. I instinctively knew there would come a time when the world would carry on, but that that was the precise moment when she would be at her most vulnerable, when she would most need a friend to tell her that she was loved and that she would be supported when she needed it. Someone who was not, “Thank God that’s over, ” because it is, but it isn’t.

I remember my friend telling me that she did not want her crisis to be the event that defines her; she was more before it happened and would be more after. And yet, how can you not review your life, review where you are, review where you’ve been, think about where you are going, after a crisis?

In the end, no matter how much you empathize, no one can understand more than the person who is living it, what they have been through and what it means. But what you can do is pledge to be there for them, whenever and however and whatever they need. You cannot live someone’s pain, but you can always help them live it and survive it. That is what friends do.

Thank you for reading In the wind. 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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