Tag Archives: forgiveness

The privilege

The snowstorm is since gone,
the driveway plowed, the sidewalks cleared
and the curbside gaps cut for each door.
I’ve shoveled out and cleared off the woodpile
and am lugging in the last load
when I glimpse him, 50 years gone,
standing there in the bitter white-on-white.

It snowed then, in that place, at that time,
in my mind, even more so than now:
mountains of the stuff so that it took
hours and hours to dig yourself out.
It was cold then, too—shivery, wet, break-your-back cold,
with the snow caking your mittens
and your arms leaden with the lifting. How I hated it.
But I did it.

So I wave to him, that little one
and smile as I lift the last of the firewood onto the porch.
I get it, dad, I get it.

What can I say? An absolutely true story, exactly as written. I was bringing firewood in from the woodpile after having cleaned up the snow from a recent snowstorm when my mind drifted back to snow clearing as a child those many years ago. So much has changed—so little has changed.

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

The photograph was taken at our home, but of a storm several years ago. 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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Trompe-l’œil

up

I would, if I could, hide in the details,
disappear in plain sight,
and fool you blood and bone—
light and dark, heart and soul,
a deep music welling up
and weeping inside,
begging to trip you.
I would if I could, I would.
I do.

up

Trompe-l’œil (TRUMP-loy, French for deceiving the eye) is the technique of using a skillfully created, hyper-realistic optical illusion to create a three dimension perspective in two dimensional art. The image above, for example, is a detail from Henry Fuseli’s 1750 painting with the rather obvious name, Trompe-l’œil.

To see 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.

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As it will


branches

Worried he’d die,
hoping he would,
angry he might,
sad he could,
confused he had,
thinking he should—
tired, so very, very tired.
We are made from
chaos, regret and guilt;
why/why/why, we ask,
but does that really matter?

We are so very, very
we very human humans,
and ought as naught
we stay awake to hear the murmurs
’til the dawn comes ’round again.
Thus they melt, one to the other,
next and next, until that day
by the hospital bed when it all focuses in,
even easier than it had once slipped away.
Let it go—you are,
that’s enough, let it go,
just breathe.
Again.
Hear that?

swril2

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

The photograph was taken from the rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. 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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Sailor’s Creek

IMG_5921_2_3

It was the last action of the Army of Northern Virginia,
the final skirmish that made it bend its knee.
A smaller fight than many, still, it was the most crowded,
savage, no-quarter-given-or-asked, bloody, desperate
action of the war.

Muskets were useless, except as clubs;
bayonets, knives, rocks, nails—teeth if you’d any left—
all were born into that melee: hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye,
rage-to-rage. The Rebs were tired, starved, ragged phantoms
of sinew, hunger and misery; the Yankees were toughened
campaigners and ready for their end game; they even jeered
‘surrender’ on their first charge, but after dying to a man,
the second wave was cannier. And so both sides became
what each had pent up for so long: pure hate,
purer desperation and there at the end, purest hope, so that
the green-green grass was green no more with the slick of it.

And then it was done. The Union soldiers, on seeing the state
of their Confederate prisoners, opened their packs to share
what food they had. Days later, Lee wore his ceremonial sword
to Appomattox, but Grant refused to ask for it, instead offering
terms gentler than had been sought. With permission,
the two officer corps sought out the friends left living
on the other side. And that night, Lincoln, too tired
to give a speech, asked the band, instead, to play Dixie.
The crowd sang along ’til the end.

 

swril2

 

The American Civil War (1861-1865) was the bloodiest and most savage conflict the United States has ever engaged in. Although Southern revisionists argued after the war (and since) that the real issue at the heart of the conflict was ‘states rights,’ truthfully it was about slavery and its need to be purged from the land.

The events described in this poem are authentic and exact and were taken from the book Killing Lincoln, which I read recently. This is the first of two poems inspired by the end of the Civil War, the second is I hope Marse Robert’ll speak up for me.

For the non-Americans reading this post, a few notes:

1) The two sides of the conflict were: in the North, the Union forces, popularly referred to as Yankees, fighting to preserve the country in its entirety and end slavery; and in the South, the Confederate forces, popularly referred to as the Rebels, or Rebs, who were fighting for secession (the right to leave) from the United States of America to form a separate country, the Confederated States of America (also known as ‘the Confederacy’) which would be built on an economy of slavery.

2) President Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the greatest President the country has ever known,  pursued the war with great vigor, but clearly wanted a policy of forgiveness and reconstruction for the South after the conflict was over, to bring it firmly back into the Union. Tragically, this great man was assassinated just after the war and his policies not clearly followed. Jefferson Davis was  his Confederate counterpart. By the time of the events of this poem, the Confederate capitol of Richmond had fallen (on April 3rd, not May 10th, as accounted in the popular song by The Band, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down) and Davis was on the run, soon to be captured on May 10th. (Hence the confusion.) Although held for two years, neither he, nor any of his government, were ever tried for treason.

3) General Ulysses S. Grant was the head of the Union forces and a brilliant campaigner, while General Robert E. Lee, although the titular leader of the Confederate forces, was actually only directly in control of the Army of Northern Virginia. This was the army Lee had lead—his campaigns are still studied by military strategists today—in all his battles throughout the war; they were tough, committed and brave veterans who adored and trusted Lee and would follow him everywhere and anywhere. However, by the end of the conflict, their numbers were greatly reduced through battle, disease, starvation, exhaustion and (once the point seemed useless) desertion. In the last week alone the army’s numbers dwindled from 30,000 to less than 8,000 men.

4) Appomattox (pronounced apho-MAT-ix) was the spot where Lee, finally cut off and surrounded, surrendered to Grant. Grant refused to ask for Lee’s sword, although Lee had worn a large ceremonial one for just that purpose. The terms given by Grant originated with Lincoln and were simple: that every soldier would be cared for and then be free to return home if they did so peacefully; and that no officers, including the generals, would be tried for treason. While Lee’s surrender left over 140,000 Confederate forces still in the field, these held out only for a short time. That surrender at Appomattox, owing to Lee’s popularity and charismatic leadership, was the end of the war.

5) Dixie was a popular minstrel song in the 1850’s throughout the United States. Although not official, it was the de facto anthem of the Confederacy and remains identified with it to this day.

The main consequences of the war were the preservation of the United States, the abolition of slavery (although by no means was this the end of the black struggle for equality) and the creation of an American consciousness: prior to the war, individuals identified with the state they were from; after the war, people, both North and South, saw themselves as Americans. The country had paid for that right in blood.

Thank you for reading Sailor’s Creek. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at dawn in a Civil War era cemetery just outside of 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.

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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.

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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

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Let go

Sweetest to my lips is Your Name,
deepest in my heart, Your Voice;
closest to my hope is Your Mercy,
strongest for my courage, Your Memory;
hardest on my fear is Your Justice,
nearest to my serenity, Your Forgiveness;
dearest to my patience is Your Own,
heaviest on my mind, Your Truth.

Breathe deep, let go, breathe deep,
repeat…
for when the page before me dries
and I have let go all that I have learned,
I will write this poem down, I promise,
I will write this poem down.
Let go.

Thank you for reading Let go. 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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