Tag Archives: kindness

Thanksgiving Day blues


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

So please, Mr. Crazy-man
with that rage behind your gun
and all your whispers and your 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, sir, 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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What matters

How did the formal dress of my mother’s day
decay into the shabbiness of my own?
Never would she have left the house
in less than a dress, good shoes,
hair done, hat and gloves,
a handkerchief tucked into her purse.

She would, I think, like me to dress her
more properly now: to weed her plot,
trim the grass, plant some flowers,
clean the headstone. Not to beautify
her—not anymore—but to adorn me.
To her it was not just what you wore,
it was how you wore what you were
that counted.

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, my generation took pride in ridiculing the 50’s as a time of great hypocrisy covered in a thin veneer of  politeness and decorum…a world in which racism was rampant (and it was), where war was considered romantic (it isn’t and wasn’t), where women were considered—if they were considered at all—subservient (big mistake that one) and where the overall, arching impetus of life was to show a perfect front, never mind the misery that was behind the facade.

Thus did the Flower Power generation excuse their own excesses as ‘breaking out’, ‘being free’ and ‘letting it all hang out’. Politeness and ‘the proper way’ became stock characters of silliness and hypocrisy. And yes, while the times they were a changin’—and there were things that needed to be changed—I have long given up the belief that everything that went out the door with the bathwater should have been got rid of.

From the ‘high’ of politics (i.e. publicly visible) to the ‘low’ of everyday interaction, rudeness rules. And the motto of the entertainment industry is, if it’s disgusting, slutty, petty or mean, it stars!

Courtesy is free and yet priceless. So is honesty, trustworthiness, humility, justice and kindness. And I’m greedy, I want them all.

Thank you for reading What matters. 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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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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This long, long night

Khanum, of what shall we speak?
Of dashed hopes, of aching limbs,
of damaged loves and broken hearts?
But please, do not bestir Yourself.
If we do not pray in words then surely
through this long, long night our silence will say it all:
of our hope for that gentle kiss to send us into the mist,
of our fear to hear the quietest of sounds floating in the dark,
of our wait for the darkest shadows to reach out before the dawn…
And as I drift now—as You drifted then—this I know,
I will never weep alone again.

In Persian, the word “Khanum” is a term of great respect when added to a woman’s name and can be roughly translated as “Lady.” It’s pronunciation is a little tricky: the opening “Kh” is like “ha” but said with a little guttural sound. All together it is pronounced “Kha-num.”

In this poem it is directed to Varaqiy-i-‘Ulyá, or, in English, the Greatest Holy Leaf, the designated title of the daughter of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith; She passed from this world in 1932, the last of Her generation. The Greatest Holy Leaf was universally known for Her purity, kindness, strength, determination, humility and Her constant service to Her Father, who said of Her, I can well inhale from thee the fragrance of My love and the sweet-smelling savour wafting from the raiment of My Name, the Most Holy, the Most Luminous. Be astir upon God’s Tree in conformity with thy pleasure and unloose thy tongue in praise of thy Lord amidst all mankind.

Such was Her loving nature and sense of kindness and humility that She was, in that Household, commonly addressed as “Khanum,” and was indeed, the Khanum.

Thank you for reading This long, long night. 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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Patrick (plus also Marian Burnett’s “After Seven Years”)

Patrick didn’t wait for me,
how like him to go on first, alone.
He was, to me, the essence of touch
made into flesh and bone—
his laughter, robust and yet so light,
had a way of bursting out
and rising up through the hole in your heart
and resting there, lingering long after
the echoes had departed.
I confess I can’t quite grasp it yet,
wherever did the time go?

It was as if the jingle-jangle
got to be too much for him
and now, here in free fall, I wonder
what it was I missed that he caught
and looking at thought, ‘no more’?
Sweetest man, you probably told me
but I wasn’t listening just then.
I am now.

Marian and Patrick Burnett were my best friends in university, all those many years ago. A young Bahá’í couple, they opened their home and hearts to an awkward, shy, newly minted Bahá’í youth just arrived into the big city. They were wonderful and I quickly came to think of Pat as the older brother/best friend/spiritual guide/mentor that every young man needs.

Pat was amazing. Smart, wise, strong, experienced, kind, generous and funny…gosh, so very, very funny, with a wonderful, subtle sense of insightful humor. And too, a wonderful taste in music. Much of the music I listen to today was guided by him; he had an incredible ear for good music and was the first to teach me to slip through musical genres to look for the magic of emotion in the layer below.

Let me share just one story about Pat. My mother loved him (she loved to cook and he loved to eat so they were a pair made in heaven) but, still he was outside of her sphere of experience. Then, one year, she became quite ill and spent quite a bit of time in a hospital where Pat, and often Marian, were rigorous about visiting her. She told me years later that there were times when the drugs would knock her out and Pat would be the last thing she saw as the light faded, sitting there reading a book, and he would be the first thing she saw as she came to some time later, “Still reading his book!” she would say, and picking up the conversation just where they left it off. After that, she loved Marian, and especially Pat, with a devotion that she held for few outside of the family (and not many even in that group.) He was thereafter her Pat and Marian, and that was that and God help the poor person that did not love them too!

Sadly—and I confess this was all my doing—after I graduated and moved away we drifted out of contact. (Of the many faults in my makeup, the fact that I have trouble sustaining long distance relationships is the one that betrays me the most.) The odd email or call is no replacement for being face-to-face and able to hug and to touch and to laugh.

The day that Pat’s son, Justin, was able to find me on Facebook and to tell me the sad news of his father’s death, was a hard one for me. As I was trying to take it in, I could hear my mother, long since passed, with one of her tropes, “Only the good die young!” And while that may not be true, what is true is that he was far too young to be gone from us. I still appreciate Justin’s kindness and tenacity in tracking me down, but I am not surprised that he did; he is very much, I think, like his father and his mother: kind, considerate and loving. I wish I was closer to them both to know him better.

Thank you for reading Patrick. 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

January 20, 2013 Postscript:

Marian, Pat’s beloved wife and someone I am lucky and proud to call a dear, dear friend, recently shared this beautiful poem with me and then graciously allowed me to add it to the original post. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

After Seven Years

All there was before the shock
I have been clearing, sorting,
using the best
for my foundation.

He was the one
who introduced me
to the Maker of Blueprints
and encouraged me to build
My spire toward heaven

The poem Patrick, and the notes that accompany it are © 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poems 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.

The poem After Seven Years is © 2013 by Marian Burnett; all rights reserved; it may not be reproduced in any way without the written approval of the author.

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That boulevard

We walked hand in hand,
the first time I had ever touched a man
and kept hold after the embrace.
We must, I suppose, have talked of much,
although of what I cannot now recall.
But nothing said more
than what was said with that hold
as we strolled down that boulevard
like we owned it.

Your culture is not your language, what you eat or what you wear. You can learn the first, get used to the second and wear anything that’s decent, and still not be assimilated into a culture. Your culture is the instant, without thinking way that you react in a given situation…the “from the gut” or “knee jerk” reaction that you not only cannot control, but is so instinctive that you do not even realize that is is controlling you.

In North American culture, people of the same sex do not touch in public, or if they do, only briefly. Opposite sexes touch in public, and can remain touching. In Africa, it is the exact opposite. People of different sex never touch in public, while people of the same sex display friendship by holding on to each other continually. While you will rarely see a man and a woman, even if they are married, touching in public, you will often see two men or two women strolling hand-in-hand and talking. So for me, taking hold of an African man’s hand and walking down the street talking with him was not just an act of friendship and trust, it was an act of culture bending unity. On that day, in that time, we did own that boulevard.

Thank you for reading That boulevard. 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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On this bridge, as far as I can see

Out of control, whirligig,
one round, two rounds, three rounds, stop—
the road a blur of nothing having happened at all.
Except (in a right world)
I’d be dead in the river below
instead of up here on the bridge
needing a smoke so bad
I thought I’d eat the pack.

But isn’t that the truth of it?
Because that’s when they nail you the hardest,
those pesky, insolent things,
those principles of your certainty.
Eventually they catch up with you
and stumble you like dozens of tiny hooks
bowing humbly at your feet,
each pointing their little barbs straight at you:
icy roads and too much speed,
truth and honor and lies—
and you ask yourself as you sit there,
Why did I ever think
I could get away with that?

In 1981 I was working as the site engineer at the construction of a gas transmission plant that I had designed in northern Alberta, Canada. Being December in northern Alberta, and especially then in the 80s, that meant that the world was made up of cold, ice and snow, and after that more cold, ice and snow.

That day was the last working day for the Christmas Holiday; we wouldn’t be back to the site until after the New Year. I was the last to leave and start down the rural, dirt road that had been cut into the forest to where the plant was located. I was en route to my apartment in Calgary in southern Alberta, but foolishly, while my friends in northern Alberta knew I was going south for the holidays, my friends in the south did not know when to expect me, if at all; I hadn’t really shared my plans with them.

Being excited at the thought of the vacation, I did not take into account what I was doing until I crested an icy hill. I am going way too fast, I thought, and I was. Going down the other side I had to tap my truck’s brakes to have any hope of making it around a bend at the bottom of the hill heading to a bridge that was over  a 20 foot drop to a rocky, fast and icy cold river below. When I did I instantly lost control. I can’t remember if or how I fought for control of the vehicle, but I do remember ending up swinging around in lazy circles in the exact same spot in the middle of a bridge—three times—and stopping looking exactly in the direction I should be going. How I wasn’t in the river below I still don’t know. After a few minutes, and yes, a cigarette or two (I’ve since quit) I put the truck in gear and drove on, slowly, shaken and thinking of what could have just happened, but didn’t.

To quote a favorite prayer: I beseech Thee to aid and assist me at all times and under all conditions, and seek from the heaven of Thy grace Thine ancient favor.

Thank you for reading On this bridge, as far as I can see. 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.

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