Tag Archives: life

Gone in the blood

IMG_6943He was a lost boy, was David, my just-a-teen cousin.
Lost to the parents who uglied him away,
lost to the younger ones he tried to protect,
lost finally to the madness in his cytoblast
that copied him/copied him/copied him on,
until it copied him into his grave.
Aunt Vi and uncle George were childless
and loved us nieces and nephews like we were their own,
but David—he was David—special was little David,
he would have been, I think, more like them
(and, most hopefully, sober like him)
if Goliath had not struck him down.

Wilfred was David’s younger brother, and I just spent
an hour sifting through the photos of his obituary.
Fifty-one, he was, tired looking with fat jowls
and heavy, bloodshot eyes, a beer by his side
in every photo they shared of him.
I don’t think that when we lost David
anyone would have said he was the lucky one.
But lost is a relative place and once he was gone
he was somewhere safe where he could always be found,
which is not something that, to be honest,
could be said of the rest of us left behind.

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I once went on a hike with David down by the river near the town where we lived. It is a day that I remember vividly, from a time in my life when I have few memories; I probably was not yet a teen, he probably just was and he would be gone in another year or two. Curiously, I have no specific memories of David being sick with leukemia, or of his dying, or of going to his funeral, or of everyone around me grieving. And yet, all of this must have happened. I can only surmise now, years later, that I just blocked it all out.

I know I admired David—he was older and therefore more daring, after all—but I also remember there always being a cloud of worry about him. Although I was young and knew no details, I was aware in a vague, whispered way that he did not have a happy home life and I knew that was a very sad thing.

God rest you all, my lonely, sad, lost cousins.

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

The photograph was taken on a walk in a local park one fall morning. The empty bottle had been left on the table exactly where I photographed it. By a person? Some people? It had been a party? Loud? Quiet? I don’t know. You never do. 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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Grown up

upAll cherub cheeks he was, too,
our lost little boy, our hero,
brave in trying, braver in failing,
learning that a button on a controller
is not a hip swing out on the slopes.
Can you remember it, son?
White, white snow beneath great green conifers
and the sky as blue as dreams, just kinder?
The deep, deep air so full of ever and forever?

He’s dead now, you know.
Lost he was, out there, under an avalanche of words—
some true, most not—yet all of them excuses
that still echo down their cold, slippery trails.
It was, I suppose, failures in happanstance—
some simple, most not—but I find myself
wondering, just the same, how it would have
turned out if he had stuck to snowboarding
that day. If he had just stuck with it.

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At this point, I cannot possibly tell you why it has been so long since I posted a poem. Excuses abound, of course, but at this point they ring hollow, even to me. Who decided when your muse comes and goes? No one, I suppose, but for so long she was always “just…almost…right there…” Close, but not close enough. Anyway…

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

The photograph was taken of some poor hapless soul on a slope in New Hampshire just as he was wiping out, “having a garage sale” as the joke goes. (You wipe out so bad that all your equipment goes hither and yon and you can’t be bothered to go fetch it. Let anyone who makes an offer have it.) 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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That day Spaz tried to kill me

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It hurt, “hands-around-my-throat, can’t-breathe” hurt
I was laughing so hard. Finally I managed to get enough
air to gasp pleadingly for him to stop—and that is when he
flicked his box of popcorn in my face. If it had been funny
before, it was hilarious then and I remember ending up on
the dirty, ticky-tacky floor of the theater, thinking:
this is it/i’m going to die/it was fun while it lasted.
And as God is my witness, that only made it funnier.

It turns out that at that point he had already lived over
half of his life, while I only a third (thus far) of mine.
I ask you: what fairness is there in that?
But perhaps that is the point, my point, or his point to me,
because it has to be someone’s point. (I can hear him
laughing as I write this—my little buddy, still laughing.)
And as God is my witness, I would love to know
what it is that he is laughing about right now.

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Tony told me on our first meeting (we were in university together, taking our engineering degrees) that ‘Spaz’ was his nickname. I could go on and on about him, but the simple truth is that he was a wonderful person and I loved him very, very much. He was a good and dear friend and I cherish all those years we were together.

The tragedy is that we had not spoken since shortly after we graduated; my moving to Africa did that to many relationships. And yet, when I recently heard from a fellow classmate that he had died at the very young age of 40, still, I was very saddened by it. As my mother often said, “Only the good die young.” That’s not true, of course, but what is true is that we get to regret their passing for far longer than if they had not.

And that story about us going to a movie and me feeling I was going to die from laughing? Absolutely true. That was Spaz.

Thank you for reading That day Spaz tried to kill me. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at Wolf Den state park in Connecticut.  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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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 will be withered
and the vines hard and dry, their hopes gone and the roots
hidden in sleep. I know they don’t, but I wonder—do they
dream, longing for a wet spring and a warm summer sun?

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 the good creation of a
good God, 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. 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

upIt 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
ball-field, “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 over loud jocularity.

But it had been a dying practice even before I left. And now
the baseball diamond is gone, the bleachers torn down and the park
that replaced it goes unused. The mill is shut down too, a victim
of much wanting more: the unions, the company, the town. In fact,
I hear they’re going to tear down the empty buildings and rehabilitate
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 that cold ground alone.
I remember, I was young, but old enough (and am now old,
but young enough) to know  how transitory it all was, even then:
how hot it was and she in just her bra, her kids looking scared
(something I was not used to and still wonder about)
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)
if I met one, nor have a clue, life being what it is, as 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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Pete Hulme’s “Dust for winds to scatter”

Pete Hulme writes the Everybody Means Something blog, a treasure trove of deeply reasoned, well-written and thought provoking essays, reviews, ideas and poems on a wide variety of topics. Here is a poem, Dust for winds to scatter that he released recently:

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You will note that Pete’s poem is after the great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado‘s poem:

¿Y ha de morir contigo el mundo mago
donde guarda el recuerdo
los hálitos más puros de la vida,
la blanca sombra del amor primero,

la voz que fue a tu corazón, la mano
que tú querías retener en sueños,
y todos los amores
que llegaron al alma, al hondo cielo?

¿Y ha de morir contigo el mundo tuyo,
la vieja vida en orden tuyo y nuevo?

¿Los yunques y crisoles de tu alma
trabajan para el polvo y para el viento?

Since I do not speak Spanish and could not find a better translation, I was forced to work with Google’s site translator:

And is it to die with the wizard world
where the memory keeps
the breaths purest life,
the white shadow of love first,

the voice that was your heart, the hand
you wanted to retain in dreams,
and loves all
who came to the soul, to the deep sky?

And you must die to your world,
is life in the old and new order yours?

Do anvils forge your soul
working for the dust and the wind?

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Besides the unifying theme of struggle leading, in the end, to the wind blown dust, the reference in Pete’s poem to the idea and style of Machado’s work is clear—both are filled with a full measure of heart-filled anguish by one who has loved truly and deeply. Moreover, both poems ache so perfectly that it is not possible to read either (even in the Google translation) and not ache with them, for both talk of the essence of what it is to love and to love in life with an intensity that catches the breath and fixes the imagination.

However, to consider Pete’s poem a slavish imitation to the original would be very wrong, as he adds, I think, two essential elements that are his own: that the love he has born, being human, has not been born perfectly; but that, still, beyond this, this love he has borne has transformed him sufficiently to glimpse the mercy of the Divine. These added elements are more than beautiful and worthy sentiments, they are at once sublime in their cohesiveness, approachable by the least among us and transformative for those who can mine the core of humility buried in the depths of the poem. For me, it is a poem that only improves over time and grows sweeter to the tongue with each re-read.

What is more, I suspect that Antonio Machado feels that way too.

Thank you for reading Pete Hulme’s “Dust for winds to scatter”. 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. Poem © 2014 by Pete Hulme; all rights reserved. Oddly enough—for me, anyway—it is used by permission of the author.

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