Tag Archives: letting go

Gadfly


If you could slow and watch a penny drop,
see it spiral on its way down,
look at it flash from both sides ’round,
listening before it hits the ground…
then you might have time enough to think,
That’s what I’ve been doing wrong, all along!

I would laugh but for the tears:
more compassion—not less—especially for those
who deserve it the least,
they who I would despise the most.
For I am an ocean and they are not
and their bitter drop would be as nothing to me,
while my surge, will I hope, drown them,
or so it is I believe.

I am the gadfly that spurs your noble steed to action.
– Socrates, paraphrased, at his trial, per Plato in the Apology dialog

I recently posted Pain in a Blind Eye, a poem that captured my distress at the recent murders which took place in a Jewish Synagogue in Pittsburgh. That event, and too many others like it, had left me rudderless and unable to cope with it. It was not until I read Pete Hulme’s Everybody Means Something blog that I started to get a glimpse of what was wrong. He says there, The wider we set our compass of compassion, and the deeper our wisdom becomes, the less likely are we to be fearful, threatened and reactively aggressive. When something disturbing happens and it’s a drop in the ocean you feel no fear. When something happens and it’s a drop in a thimble, all hell spills out.

In that one passage, he helped articulate a response that I was groping for but could not form, a balance that I needed but could not achieve. Our society is so divisive and polarized, the forces of disintegration and disunity so immense, the perpetrators of fear and hate so brazen and bold—it is all too easy to wearily succumb to them. But not if you can be an ocean of compassion to their anger and their tragedy.

To have compassion is not to forget, to condone, leave broken or let remain unpunished. It is a concern for the sufferings of others—all others—and that starts with striving to understand and to forgive.

PS: If you read Pete’s original post you will note that I even stole his ‘an important penny dropped’  line as a metaphor for seeing both sides of a situation. It turns out that I am as grateful as I am despicable, but there you go—I’ve said it before: originality is merely undetected plagiarism. 🙂

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

The photograph was taken on my phone. 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 Work 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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I just can’t till this land no more

Ghosts - Bodie State Park, CA
I just can’t till this land no more,
I just can’t till this land.
It’s a barren land, this land I hoe,
seeded with the salt of tears.
I stand on this land and it pulls me down
yearning to swallow me whole.

Here the wind whispers to the plow,
the plow to me and I to the yoke back:
You live only to die, to reap what is sown
and to gnaw the bitter root.

Carry on.

swril2

There are times when, out of desperation, fear, hope or love, we try to hold on to things and to control them. But they cannot be held, cannot be controlled and it is futile to try—they only strangle in your grip.

Santayana said, Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. If there is humor built into Nature, that is it.

The photograph is entitled Ghosts and was taken in the ghost town of Bodie in Bodie State Park, CA. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

Thank you for reading I just can’t till this land no more. 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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One fall drive in the Poconos

Maple leaf forever

The small maple leaf, deep red with tiny yellow daubs and
a bent stem, floated down before the windshield and slowly,

lazily even, started to curl midair, casting as
it twisted, a spell on time itself: sound stopped and light curved

in a still sheen, highlighting the pale yellows on one side
of the road and the blood reds on the other, with a pair

of puzzled eyes—hazel my mother called them—floating in
between. Suddenly I knew this for what it was: an ache

for all those calm, quiet, forgotten moments, the ones of
absolute lightness that are sweeter than breath itself and

sufficient for being them unto themselves. Gone then
were those agitated moments—

With a whoosh, more imagined then heard, the little maple
leaf flew up and over the car, into the void behind.

– or –

The small red leaf twisted in the wind,
an instance of perfect resignation,
a breath released before I—
gone.

 

swril2

 

Recently, my wife and I spent a week in the Poconos, the name the resort area goes by in Pennsylvania. (In New York the same area is known as the much more prestigious “Catskills,” which just goes to show you that even a mountain range can do with good marketing these days.)

We were both, by the time we got there, exhausted and tired in both body and spirit, so the trip was a welcome respite from our daily clamor.

The incident described in the poems happened exactly as described, but that raises the question, Why two poems under one title?

I wish I had as good an answer as the question. The longer poem was my attempt at a more structured, detailed poem. You will note, for example, the 14 syllable line construction until the break and how much color plays a role in it. But in the end, I wanted to try something even  more closely aligned (if not as descriptive) with the spirit of the event, its brevity and intensity.

Like any good parent I will not state a preference of one child over the other. But please, feel free to weigh in on which you think works the best for you.

Thank you for reading One fall drive in the Poconos. 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. These 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.

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Ian Hamilton’s “The Garden”

Ian Hamilton is a poet from the second half of the 20th century who I greatly admire and whose poetry I love to champion. You can find a listing of more of his poems on the Book of Pain here.

The Garden

This garden’s leaning in on us, green-shadowed
Shadowed green, as if to say: be still, don’t agitate
For what’s been overgrown—
Some cobbled little serpent of a path,
Perhaps, an arbour, a dry pond
That you’d have plans for if this place belonged to you.
The vegetation’s rank, I’ll grant you that,
The weeds well out of order, shoulder-high
And too complacently deranged. The trees
Ought not to scrape your face, your hands, your hair
Nor so haphazardly swarm upwards to breathe
In summertime. It shouldn’t be so dark
So early.
All the same, if I were you,
I’d let it be. Lay down your scythe. Don’t fidget
For old clearances, or new. For one more day
Let’s listen to our shadows and be glad
That this much light has managed to get through.

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

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

Do not let me be a bird too long,
it hurts too much to return.
Such spirit alchemy is more than magic
and causes pain beyond the ken of men.
But to soar into the heights of light,
to swoop effortlessly and true,
to leave behind the cares of earthly bounds
and with thumping heart know true joy…
this is too much for any soul.
Thank God for the mercy of the mud
which calls me down and mires me
to the ground; I fear I’d harm myself
to stay aloft, if ever I stayed too long.

After I wrote this poem, I got to thinking that I had, long (long) ago, written another poem about being transformed into a bird. Not in the sense of a spiritual metaphor, as in Soaring, but as in a real transformation where the temptation was not to turn back. I was probably reading a lot of science fiction or fantasy at the time, something I no longer do.

Anyway, I was able to search through my old notebooks and find it and clean it up a little.

To the sky

Do not of me
let me a hawk to make.
Talon and beak, to rend fresh meat
and taste the sweetness therein;
lost, yes, but arrogant and replete,
to the sky screaming, might’s right!

Thank you for reading Soaring and To the sky. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed them 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. These 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.

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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, adorned as she was
in the gown stitched by her mother,
was made more beautiful by the crown she wore:
they were doing God’s will together.

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 tumult 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.

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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Us Anonymous

You and me, let’s do it, let’s start it,
Us Anonymous.
They’ll come, you’ll see,
every one of them, they’ll come.

We’ll launch with a desperate desire
because that’s the key to it, I think, desperation.
To celebrate, we’ll take every last, nasty thing
that we can be and pour them into some fireworks.
We’ll seal them up and prime them down
and launch them way up high.
When they explode (and count on it, they will)
every little part that we let go
will burn and glow in full public view
(painfully it’s true, but just for a moment)
before fading…leaving our dreams on the air,
dispersing everywhere.
Gosh, I can see it now, it will be beautiful.
It will.

Thank you so much for reading Us Anonymous. 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, either alone or with the notes that accompany it, may be printed and distributed—in part or amalgamated with other works—as long as the copyright notice and the address, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com, are also clearly printed with it and there is no fee charged.

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