Tag Archives: fear

To those I should have loved more



There is a sky somewhere, vast enough, blue enough,
so high, so round, so close, so bright
that it brings your should-have-been’s, could-have-been’s
and hoped-to-be’s back together,
so that the tears you cry are ones of joy,
and the clouds that go by, go swiftly—
high and tight to the warming sun.
And as those clouds fade and float away
they can take with them all that you let slip,
rightly or wrongly, wisely or churlishly,
so that there and then, on that spot,
with that sky singing above you,
you will forge, my lovers, forgiveness;
and it will wash over you
and it will cleanse you
and you will be a fire
to everyone around you.
And you will not hurt,
at least not then, maybe never.
We’ll see.

Thank you for reading To those I should have loved more. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken on my way to work one morning. 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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Thanksgiving Day blues


I pulled a roasted turkey from under my coat,
a bowl of gravy too;
the mashed potatoes slid down one sleeve,
candied yams down the other;
rolls and cranberries came out of rear pockets,
a veggie casserole from under my sweater.
The pies—there were three—I kept hidden for later,
tight beneath my hat.

So please, Mr. Crazy-man
with all your rage and your whispers and doubts,
don’t kill us, we don’t want to die just yet—not yet.
Listen: I am your brother
and I love you with all the depth and breadth
of everything I have to offer.
So please, sit and eat, before you do something
I know I already regret.

The world is rife with worries and terrors. But within the United States, the situation is aggravated by the fact that it is so easy—too easy— to legally obtain a high caliber, fully automatic weapon with a large magazine. All in the name of logic-defying ideology. Recent years, and in particular, recent months, have seen too many incidents of senseless, public mass murder. I am learning that the only way to hold onto my humanity and not fall into a well of despair is to strive to develop a sense of compassion for the ones who feel driven to do such awful deeds.

Given that we will soon be celebrating Thanksgiving Day—in the United States the most family-oriented holiday of the year—I thought a poem summing up my thoughts would be timely. I hope you like it.

Thank you for reading Thanksgiving Day blues, the title of which is an homage to Auden’s Funeral Blues. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The image is Norman Rockwell’s iconic Freedom From Want. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

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. The attribution claimed under the license is: © John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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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 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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Labour Day


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It 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
ballfield, “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 frenzied jocularity.

But it had been a dying practice even before I left. And now
the diamond is gone, the bleachers torn down and the park
that replaced it goes unused. The paper mill is shuttered,
a victim of the unions, the company, and the town. In fact,
I hear they’re going to tear the empty buildings down
and rehab 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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It goes with the territory

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I heard she made her kids promise to cremate her,
anything-but-anything not to go into the cold ground alone.
I remember I was young, but old enough—
now think it through, vice versa
to know how transitory it all was:
the heat and she in just her bra, her kids looking scared
while she smoked her long thin menthols and asked me
for a glass of ice water.

I wouldn’t, today, know any of my cousins twice removed,
nor have a clue, life being what it is, to their scatterings
and shatterings, or what they embrace and what they cannot.
But I recall how slippery that glass was
with the condensation running down my back
and how the ice didn’t rattle as I handed it to her,
although it was a near thing. Now I rather think it might,
not that I care where they bury me.

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Thank you for reading It goes with the territory. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at Benjamin Franklin’s grave in Philadelphia, PA. 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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Not so different, he and I

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He was an older teen, blind and paraplegic,
with slurred and inarticulate speech
and strapped atop a sled with a single ski
that was being slowly tortured down
the bunny slope in wide, graceful arcs
by a volunteer.

Clearly, it terrified the poor child,
you could hear him all over the hill.
He was screaming like one of the damned,
his breath coming spasmodically,
his body twitching to and fro, wanting
to be done with it, wanting to be gone,
wanting to be someplace, anyplace,
as long as that place was elsewhere.
But then, at the bottom, breathless,
by then bouncing in his seat,
I heard him say it: Again!
And then even louder, Again! Again!

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The incident that sparked this story happened at the Sunday River ski resort in Newry, Maine, where my wife and I recently vacationed. The last time we were there in 2012 the Once Skiing poem came out it.

The photograph was shot on this recent skiing trip. It is a selfie taken in a double paned window at the base lodge. (That’s a plastic sleeve over the camera to protect it from the falling snow.) 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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The long wait


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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?

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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.

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Him, you, them

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He made me fall in love with him
and then he got me hooked.

He got clean, I couldn’t, he left.
Funny, huh?

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This poem, with very little editing, is based on a postcard I saw at PostSecret.com, a site where people anonymously mail in their secrets. I was at first struck with the simple, yet powerful rhythm of it, but then, clearly, the issue: on the one hand it is brutally honest to the reader, but on the other, brutally self-deceiving for the writer; notice how she refuses ownership of her issues. No wonder she cannot get clean. She is pitiable, but lost to everyone until she finds herself.

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

The photograph was taken at the Boston Commons subway stop. 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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Hope Marse Robert’ll speak for me

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Near there at the end, I recall, we was hungry,
hadn’t et for days, but’d marched light and dark,
never sleeping more’n minutes, shootin’ for
the Carolinas so’s we could keep up the fight
in the wrinkles of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Good God it rained, but it rained! Every river
was swoll up and most flooded. We was cold
and no one had boots left, socks even, just
bloodied soles. At the last, them Yankees
came at us like dogs who’d worried their hunt
to a hole and it was close and hot there for a while.
I recall puttin’ my piece to the back o’ the head
of one of them blue coats and pullin’ the trigger.
After all the fightin’ up ’til then
I can tell you my charges never failed,
no matter how wet or cold it got.
As he fell I realized t’was my best friend,
the one what had convinced me to sign up with him
back at the start. ‘Spite what the officers had told us,
he had took the coat off’n a dead Yankee days ago
rather than worryin’ t’freeze t’death.
I left that blue coat on him as I tucked him in
and pulled the dirt blanket o’er his head,
so’s he could sleep warm that night.
Now, looking back, I wonder, that when I go too,
will I be sleepin’ warm down there?
I don’t doubt I ought, I don’t.

 

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This is the final of two poems dealing with the American Civil War that were inspired by reading Killing Lincoln. I recommend that any non-Americans who aren’t quite as familiar with this war, read the explanation accompanying that first post, Sailor’s Creek, as a quick background to understand the key roles of that conflict.

Even after reading that first post, here are a few further notes:

1) Marse (short for ‘Master’) Robert was a term of deep affection Lee’s troops used to refer to him.

2) Lee’s plan after quitting Petersburg and the fall of the Confederate capital of Richmond was to escape to the Carolinas, where support for the Confederacy was high, there to fight a guerrilla war from the easily defended Blue Ridge Mountains. His retreat, however, was betrayed by Confederate looters who stole the army’s rations. The route was also eventually cut off by Grant, forcing Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

3) While, in fact, both sides wore a variety of colors in their uniforms, generally the Confederate South (the ‘Rebels’) wore gray and the Union North (the ‘Yankees’) wore blue. Certainly, the grays and the blue coats became standard terms used by both sides to refer to themselves and each other.

4) This story is real in so far as it is historically correct and it is recorded that on at least one occasion a Confederate soldier in the last few days of battle killed his best friend because that friend, like many others and against orders,  was wearing a coat stolen from a dead Northern soldier. The rest of the story, and especially the fear of the fires of hell, is my invention.

5) To be honest, I have no idea if I have authentically caught the patois of the Virginian accent, or just done a poor job of imitating a Hollywood version of that accent. But from the start it was clear to me that the poem had to be told in the first person and modern rules of diction just wouldn’t do. The point is that the soldier was a rustic from a rustic time, dealing with a terrible conditions and burdened by a horrendous act of guilt. That, I hope, still emerges. The word ‘et’ in the second line means ‘eaten.’

6) The ‘piece’ referred to by the speaker would have been his front-loaded musket rifle. Repeating Spencer rifles with modern bullets were introduced at the very end of the war, but only in the North and in very limited supply. By far the most common weapon for both sides was a long-barreled musket, where the gunpowder charge was loaded from the front, then a lead bullet and the whole tamped into place by a rod; an explosive cap was then placed under the hammer. Keeping your powder cartridges and caps dry and being able to perform quick re-loads, even in damp conditions, was the sign of a professional soldier. By this stage of the war, both sides were very, very good at doing this because if a soldier wasn’t, he was long dead.

Thank you for reading Hope Marse Robert’ll speak up for me. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at a Civil War re-enactment at Williamsburg, Virginia. The actors were a Southern troop of artilleryman and my standing so close to get that shot meant several hours of ringing ears from the one round they let off. What a real battlefield was like I can hardly, and do not really want to, imagine. 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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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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