Tag Archives: goodbye

A service I am now glad to repay

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Patrick died in an alcoholic haze of shame, resentment and relief,
wondering, I suspect, where along the path it had all gone wrong,
yet knowing he had no answer. Long ago, he had befriended me,
and when I needed it—but did not expect it—he had been kind to me.
He was my friend.

Do I know as little as he then—me, now, with all my memories?
And will I, these years on, question myself to the grave’s edge?
Yes, probably—we all have our Irish to carry, we poor debtors, we do.
So goodnight, friend Patrick, I am here for you, let it go and sleep well.
You’ve earned it.

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Many years ago, when I had just returned to Newfoundland from Africa, newly married and near broke, Patrick Kennedy hired me to a job that I loved and which set the course of my career. He was a jovial, friendly fellow (among other things, I recall we shared a love for Bruce Springsteen) who was always willing to talk, always willing to help, always quick with a laugh and a quip. To hear recently, after all these years, how bitter and tragic was his end saddened me very much.

John Waters is a well-known Irish journalist who got sober in 1989. He, better than anyone else, has captured the heart of what it is to be Irish:

“Drinking [to the Irish] is not simply a convivial pastime, it is a ritualistic alternative to real life, a spiritual placebo, a fumble for eternity, a longing for heaven, a thirst for return to the embrace of the Almighty.”

I grew up with alcoholics all around me and swore off drink when, at seventeen, I became a Bahá’í. For this and many things else, I have thanked God ever since. I know too well the devastation addiction brings.

Thank you for reading A service I am now glad to repay. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in my home in Connecticut. 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 church on the hill

The Church on the hill

I went up the hill to visit the old man who lives there.
“It’s been a long time,” he said, “Since I’ve seen you.”
“Yes,” I said, “I know. But I’d not forgot you.”
Then, in welcome, he sang to me.
But what I had remembered as a youthful voice,
full of vigor and fit for forever, was turned now into a croak,
a rasp, a sad affair of the heart.
When he dies, I thought, a little of me will die with him.
“These bones go deep,” he said with an effort
as he stood there proud yet, “How can you forgive yourself?”
I thought about that as I kissed him goodnight
and laid him down to rest, up there on that hill.
“In nomine Patris,” I said gently, “In nomine Patris.”

“In nomine Patris” (in nom-e-nay pah-tray) is the opening verse of “In nomine Patris, et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.” the Latin used by Catholics to say the sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Although raised a Catholic (I was even once head altar boy), when I was 17 I became a Bahá’í. I had few occasions to visit a church after that, but one such occasion was the funeral of a friend’s brother. That church was up on a hill, but the hill of the poem is not a physical one.

My understanding of this poem has changed over time. My father, who is now 80-something-wonderful visited us some time back. I adore my father for the incredible man he is: the finest example of a Christian I know. But he is also very Catholic and while he has never challenged my conversion, I know it hurts him and he worries over me. In re-reading this poem I realized that what I had also written about was our relationship: loving, strong, but with some hurt and some regret.

Thank you for reading The church on the hill. 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.

The photograph is entitled, appropriately enough, The church on the hill, and was taken from a set of photographs shot in the Poconos. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

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.

2012.11.21

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George Harrison’s 12 string Rickenbacker

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Fit once for merely banging around
but sanctified now, it rests somewhere
I suppose, in some display, old, worn,
rubbed and cracked, perfect in every way.
Unable not to, in my mind’s eye, I reach out,
hitting the barrier of glass, if not memory:
and there—innocently enough—it cries, laughs,
is loud but strangely far away, one grand chime,
singing and running, happy once again, once more.
I can always, I thought, if I want, when I do,
be back there for an hour, in a second.
But then?

It was a world, but it was just a world
and is a world now going, soon gone,
no regrets—well, some—but that gets you nowhere
so no, none. I smile as I reach out again,
soon gone. But not now, not today,
not yet, not gone.
Not yet.

That opening chord and scene of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night: what a perfect memory for that era.  (Not to mention the granddaddy prototype of all music videos!) If you don’t know it, check it out here on YouTube. It was made possible by George Harrison acquiring a unique sounding 12 string electric guitar, made by Rickenbacker. (In fact there were two, an early prototype and a full production model.) It is hard, today, to understand what a powerful and trend-setting effect it had on popular music. For one example: so impressed by the sound was a young musician, Roger McGuinn, that he bought one and founded the legendary 60’s band The Byrds around it.

Thank you for reading George Harrison’s 12 string Rickenbacker. 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 that softened night

The candle had burned on through the night,
it, the guitar and the chair
there on that balcony the whole time.
And in that softened night,
in the magic of that light,
there were no sharp edges left to hurt them:
I saw a young man, all optimism and faith
made radiant by the glad bride beside him.
And she—beautiful as she was,
adorned as she was
in the gown lovingly stitched by her mother—
was made more beautiful by the crown that she wore,
the belief that they were doing God’s will.
And it seemed to me then
that in that softened light
they had danced that last night
to the strands of the silent guitar,
all the noise left now far behind them.
I closed the door and the candle quietly puffed out.

First off, this story is perfectly true. When we (the boys and I) lived in Kansas City, Skip, my best friend then, and I used to sit out on the balcony of our apartment at night a lot…me smoking (don’t worry, I’ve long since quit) and the both of us playing our guitars late into the night.

I was at the time grappling with the idea of what to do about my first marriage. My wife and I were separated and she wanted to try and reunite, but I was struggling with what was the right thing to do. Skip, may God bless him forever, was doing what good friends should do but often lack the wisdom, skill and empathy to do well: helping me work through the process with grace, courage and honesty.

At the end, I clearly remember this one night, getting up and wondering what the glow was on the balcony. Opening the door, I realized that I had left the candle that was out there burning all night. Why, I do not know to this day: but the softness of that still life image of the chair, the guitar and the candle in the murky dark suddenly froze a final decision in me and I knew that, despite all the hope and effort with which it was started, my marriage was over.

And thus it was.

Thank you for reading In that softened light. 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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À Dieu

We watch, he and I,
from the cold leaky garret,
the bright snapping flashes
of the blue and red flags
broad slashes along that glad, silent rue.
‘I am not,’ he whispers, ‘a fool, but a madman,
searching for what it fells like as I see it.
And if I have taken more than I have given
than that is poor payment for the pleasure…
but still, it is all that I was given
and is what I have given back to you.’

It should be enough, I think,
and a moment later, again, it should,
but now I am not so sure—it seems
I am never sure about anything anymore.
Below me the blue and red gashes
bleed black like a cacophony of clashes
all along that sad, silent rue.
I look, I hear, I listen;
I remember, I look, I listen;
à Dieu, mon ami, à Dieu!

This is the painting referred to in the post. It is one of several Impressionistic paintings that fueled my love for that school of art in particular and painting in general.

BastilleDay

“Bastille Day” by Claude Monet. A painting of Rue Montorgueil, Paris, Festival of 30 June 1878.

Luckily, I was able to see the original the last time I was in Paris. Surprisingly, it was not at the Monet family legacy museum, the Marmottan-Monet house. In fact, we found it quite by accident at (I think, the details are somewhat hazy now) the Orangerie Museum, a delightful spot that I highly recommend—after, of course, one has spent the obligatory time at the incredible Musee d’Orsay.

I should point out that English speaking people generally translate ‘adieu’ (the more common, modern spelling) as simply ‘goodbye’ or ‘farewell.’ In French it is much more nuanced than this. It means, literally, ‘to God’ and has a much greater sense of finalism and formality to it, and betokens death or complete separation, often as a result of staunch honor or sacrifice. In other words, ‘my fate is with God; it is in the Hands of the Almighty when next we shall meet again.’

Thank you for reading À Dieu. 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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Laugh out loud

Oh my children, my children,
my sweet, sweet children
how I so very much love you all!
Come to me again that I may hold you in my arms,
clasp you to my breast
and kiss your eyes one last time.

My hearts, hear me:
cry only in joy,
weep only for others
and promise me that you will laugh out loud
whenever you think of me hence.
I know that you will not forget me—
but I go hoping that someday
you will also understand me.

This is the second of two poems I call my “Epitaph Duet.” The first was My epitaph. The idea is that both stand as separate poems but that together they form a vague third.

But the issue with such serious weighty things as the last words you get to say is that it is hard to deal with the thought of how much you will hurt—if only for a little while—the loved ones you leave behind. As I wrote this poem, I realized that is why so many epitaphs are humorous: it is a great way to escape the awful finality of the idea you are facing.

Thank you so much for reading Laugh out loud. 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

2013.4.18 Edit:

Thank you for several people asking if there is any significance to my writing an epitaph. As far as I know, no, I am well and will, I hope, remain a burden on the poetry writing community for years yet to come. Dealing with the subject of a personal epitaph was an intellectual and emotional exercise only.

© 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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What a difference a life makes

Dying since ‘Nam,
ger tzedek last week,
dying again today.
If I didn’t have anything to laugh at,
I’d weep.

Recently I posted A Time To Laugh, a poem for a dear friend who had passed away. In going through my notes, I discovered another poem written on the day of his death as I drove back to my office after visiting him for the last time.

A “ger” is, in Hebrew, a male convert to Judaism and is related to the ancient word used to mean “to reside.” It originally meant “stranger,” i.e. a non-Jew living in Israel. A “ger tzedek” is used in the Talmud to denote a righteous convert, a process Carl underwent just before his death.

But I am not Jewish. If I have misconstrued these words, it is by accident, not intent, and I apologize in advance. Corrections are welcomed.

Thank you for reading What a difference a life makes. 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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