Tag Archives: love

To the test

At the end, all we had was hope,
flickering like a taper in the night.
First it began to waver, then to stutter,
next to gutter—finally it gave out with a puff.
The sandstorm then fell upon us like a ravening wolf,
tearing out what little heart we had left.
Outside, we could hear them, calling out loud:
Surely the Book of God is sufficient unto us!
Above, dispersing on the air and adding to the stench,
was that second volley of seven hundred and fifty rounds.

This poem is a re-post, as today is the Anniversary of the Martyrdom of the Báb (translates as ‘The Gate), the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith, which took place in Tabriz, Irán on July 9, 1850. But it is also about a geo-political reality that affects us today, the splitting of Islám into two factions, Sunní and Shí’ah, and how these two historical events are intertwined.

Both stories are complex, but I will try to keep the explanation short. But it is, in truth, a long tale.

The poem is written from the viewpoint of the followers of the Báb, and how they must have felt in those last, heartbreaking hours. The Báb and a companion were martyred when They were hung by Their wrists in a doorway and executed by a single volley from the 750 muskets of an army regiment. It was the second attempt to carry out the executions. The original 750 strong regiment tasked with the deed had mutinied and left after their volley had managed only to cut the ropes that suspended the Báb and His companion in the doorway. The second attempt, was, however, successful. The sandstorm that immediately followed the execution was sufficient to make it seem as if permanent night had fallen on the noonday sun. (The events of that Day are corroborated by European diplomats in the city at that time. A fuller version of the story can be found here on the interfaith site, BeliefNet.com.)

The linkage of the Martyrdom of the Báb to the split of Islám into it’s two main branches is more complex. To understand that, you have to understand how Islám was divided at all.

At root was the question of succession to the Prophet Muhammad, the Founder of Islám. Sunnís believe that the succession was properly followed through the election of a series of Caliphs, starting with Abu-Bakr, a wise, elderly man, a long time personal friend of the Prophet and an early convert to Islám. Such a process of succession would have been typical in any major clan decision in Arabia at that time. Hence its quick acceptance by the majority of Muslims of the day.
The election process was started at the behest of ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, who would go on to be the second Caliph (this is important when it comes to the explanation of the Shí’ah branch of Islám); ‘Umar was a fiery, driven person, who was another early convert to Islám.

Shí’ahs, on the other hand, contend that Muhammad had publicly designated His son-in-law, Alí, as His chosen successor at a sermon given in the last year of His life at the pool of Khum. Moreover, they believe that shortly before His passing, Muhammad asked for writing materials to be brought, so that He could dictate His last wishes with regard to succession, but that ‘Umar had interdicted this request, saying that the Prophet was delirious from His illness, and saying also that “The Book of God [referring to Islám’s Holy Book, the Qur’án] sufficeth us.” This act, Shí’ahs contend, scuttled hope for a unified Islám, caused the separation that still effects the world today, and ensured that ‘Umar himself would one day secure the leadership of Islám, especially since Abu-Bakr, the first obvious choice, was an elderly man.

Today, the Sunní branch occupies the western portion of Islám, up to the northern two thirds of Iráq. The Shí’ah portion occupies the remaining one third portion of Iráq and continues on into the east, through Irán and into Afghanistan. Pakistan, and further into the Pacific, however, reverses this trend and is mostly Sunní. The division point between the two branches explains the current inter-Islám warfare that goes on in the south of Iráq and, therefore, much of the current political turmoil in that country.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and Himself the Leader of the Bahá’í Faith after His Father’s passing, states that the musket bullets used by the regiment to kill the Báb were made from the statement made by ‘Umar as Muhammad lay dying. He means, by this, I think, that the statement, “The Book of God sufficeth us,” (or the Book of God is sufficient unto us as it is cast in the poem) is corruptive in that it put ‘Umar’s personal will over the Will of God. Moreover, the method used—to dignify and justify such an act with reference to the Book of God—is particularly wrong as it coats ‘Umar’s ambition with a false sense of piety. In so doing, and in this context—and at this extreme measure—it is a betrayal and attack on the ancient and enduring Covenant by which God directs man. The consequences of that one act, in its introduction of disunity, still resonates within Islam today.

In the end, what more heinous act can be committed by man than to willingly reject or block God’s Messenger? And what more terrible way to do that than to coat the act as one performed out of piety and kindness?

If you have made it this far, I sincerely thank you for reading To the test with its overlong explanation. 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 was taken at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, CT. 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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Nobody gets to kill you but me


Nobody gets to kill you but me,
she said (your Irish twin, your guardian angel),
too bloody right, just her.
Ask bully boy. You were eight, she was nine and he was,
that day, all of forty-eight stitches from eternity;
she swung a mean shovel, she did—for you.

But damn, her diagnosis took too long!
The surgeries that were botched,
the years that wore on,
the brunt of the pain carried
until it could be borne no longer…
you’ve wept enough, your hands are clean,
let her go, she’s gone; and now you know
she wasn’t just saying it to you.

Recently a dear friend’s beloved older sister committed suicide after many years of a debilitating and pain-ridden illness. The story in this poem is true: both my friend and her sister were, when children, digging a hole to China (and why not?!) when my friend was accosted by a bully, much to his quick lament because her older sister whoomphed him with her shovel. And ‘nobody gets to kill you but me‘ is exactly what the older sibling—during their many shared escapades—would say to her sister.

Love isn’t always easy; love isn’t always pretty; and love doesn’t always end up or go where you want it to. But it is binding, forever.

Thank you for reading Nobody gets to kill you but me. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at The Grand Canyon. 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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Aunt Vi


She lived down a small hill under the lilacs,
that all-smell of spring and full-shade of summer.
She is, I believe, still there, a flittering wren
in the nest of her doilies and lace
with no noise but from us nieces and nephews.

The rain was loudest at night
because the spare bedroom was under the rafters
and the train ran so close that it rattled the windows,
but you never let go because her fragile never did.
Fifty years on and still she sings to me,
light and delicate, so that there’s a flutter,
when I remember, deep in my throat
where the true self catches and warbles.

My maternal grandfather was married twice. Aunt Vi (for Violet) was the eldest of the first family, my mother the eldest of the second; to my mother, Aunt Vi was more a beloved step-mother than an older half-sister. She would, my mother always say, start cleaning the ashtray before you were finished, if you let her! Aunt Vi tried to make everything perfect around her because she knew how delicate life was; but despite this, she lived her life selflessly. The fact that she and Uncle George had no children, was, I came to understand, the tragedy of all our lives.

I never knew any of my grandparents, so Aunt Vi and her husband George remain the only grandparent figures I knew growing up. She suffered greatly in life and both met and rose above that pain with dignity and grace.  I, and my sister, are profoundly indebted to her for her love and her example, and are proud to cherish her memory today.

I have been privileged to mention her before in two other poems, The Royal Stores and Gone in the blood. Thank you for reading Aunt Vi. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph (from Google maps) is of the spot my aunt’s and uncle’s house used to be. Much road work has been done in the area to level the land and build a road where the train tracks used to run behind their property. I really wish they had re-planted lilacs there. 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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To those I should have loved more



There is a sky somewhere, vast enough, blue enough,
so high, so round, so close, so bright
that it brings your should-have-been’s, could-have-been’s
and hoped-to-be’s back together,
so that the tears you cry are ones of joy,
and the clouds that go by, go swiftly—
high and tight to the warming sun.
And as those clouds fade and float away
they can take with them all that you let slip,
rightly or wrongly, wisely or churlishly,
so that there and then, on that spot,
with that sky singing above you,
you will forge, my lovers, forgiveness;
and it will wash over you
and it will cleanse you
and you will be a fire
to everyone around you.
And you will not hurt,
at least not then, maybe never.
We’ll see.

Thank you for reading To those I should have loved more. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken on my way to work one morning. 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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First


You need an odd number of transitions
to have an even number of passages—
life’s hilarious that way.

Even and odd, over and on,
it’s a mystery how it all hangs together:
how tension works and release comes,
how rhythms are the heart of us
and we the heart of our rhythms.
So become: suffer, weep, despair, rise or fall,
it really doesn’t matter. But be.


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

Recently, I reviewed and archived all my poems on the Book of Pain. Some, I realized, were really two poems in one, this being such an example from a poem originally entitled Over and on; the other portion of that original work is now posted as A mathematical kōan.

The photograph was taken in my hometown of Putnam, Connecticut; it is one of two ‘road’ images, one each for this poem and its sibling. 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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A mathematical kōan


Imaginary numbers—‘i’ for short—are real,
the square roots of negative numbers;
impossible, true, but stay with me on this one
because now it’s getting personal.

But the biggest surprise is nothing: zero/nada/nil,
which is neither even nor odd
but more “what-it-is” than “what-it-is-not.”
And what it is, is an emptiness and a doubt,
an exhale so deep it becomes its own lasting misery
where you’re left hanging by your diminishing beliefs:
an odd looking for an even
or an even looking for an odd,
or an ‘i’, if that’s what wanders by.

Imaginary numbers are real, but not ‘real numbers’. Here’s the issue:

The square root of a number x is any number that when multiplied by itself () equals x. Thus, 2² = 4, and -2² = 4; or, put another way √4 = ±2.

Now think about -4. The issue is that -4 = -2 * 2 (or its reciprocal 2 * -2)  and -2 and 2 are different numbers, so √-4 has no solution. Not so fast! say mathematicians and engineers, who very effectively use (in the development of electronics, for example) “imaginary” or “i” numbers, where √-4 = 2i and 2i² = -4. Algebraically, that works, although there is no real sense to it. However, your electronic stuff built on the principle of imaginary numbers is, I promise you, very real. 🙂

Not that any of this matters; this is not a poem about mathematics, it is a poem about a paradoxical puzzle. (Either that or bad writing; you chose.)

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

Recently, I reviewed and archived all my poems on the Book of Pain. Some, I realized, were really two poems in one, this being such an example. The other portion of that original poem is posted separately as the poem First.

The photograph was taken in the Poconos of Pennsylvania; it is one of two ‘road’ images, one each for this poem and its sibling. 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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Fertile ground



It’s a blessèd thing
to dig, to grow, to weep, to reap,
but sometimes they surprise you:
because no matter how you sow
they just up and walk away,
not caring what they do or say
or how they hurt you when they go.

You want to wither—but you don’t—
that’s not how you were raised.
Instead, you put your head down
and keep on digging, keep on trying,
keep on crying over what you hope
is fertile ground, praying as you go.

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

Recently, I reviewed and archived all my poems on the Book of Pain. Some, I realized, were really two poems in one, this being such an example. The other portion of that original poem is posted separately and retains the title Do you know a gardener?

The photograph was taken in our garden. 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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Do you know a gardener?

Good loam to work your hands in,
black dirt beneath your nails;
back to ache, neck to burn,
exhaustion from planting and worrying.
Seed to plant, rain to come, life to hold on dear to:
sacred hope, quiet trust, troth to those before us.
Life growsthat’s a truthbut rarely as you’ve willed it,
and sometimes it’s the hope you’ve sown
that weighs the most when grown.

Thank you for reading Do you know a gardener? I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

Recently, I reviewed and archived all my poems on the Book of Pain. Some, I realized, were really two poems in one, this being such an example. This portion of that original poem retains the title; the other portion is posted as the poem Fertile ground.

The photograph was taken at a local farm. 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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Christmas 2 a.m.



There, in the glow of the tree,
near the stockings hung with care
and under the mistletoe, we float,
all of us, ghosts in the air,
swaying to the carols
in our long-gone everywhere,
voices-over-voices away…

And all the aches are abated,
and all the doubts are done,
and all of it matters no more
because it all will soon be gone.
So dance/just dance,
let us swirl this one more time,
for here, for now, for there, for when,
it is enough. Just dance/just dance.
I will.


I love the Holiday season and have very fond memories of family and friends from over the years. This year is no exception and, in fact, will be particularly special: for the first time in over 30 years, we will be celebrating it with my wonderful and beloved sister and brother-in-law.

To all my friends out there who are gracious enough to spend moments of your precious time reading my poetry, thank you, and no matter what your background is, or country of origin, or religion, may God bless you and the light of unity and peace shine on you and yours now, and forever. As Tiny Tim said (in imitation Cockney accent if you can), God bless us, every one!

See you sometime in 2019…

For other, previous Holidays poetry, may I suggest:

Holiday traditions

Until we’re all together again

Seasons (by Tierney Tolar)

Thank you for reading Christmas 2 a.m. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at Old Sturbridge Village, a living museum of the 1850’s in Massachusetts. 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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All grown up



My sons keep themselves awake at night,
their future the warp and their fear the weft
of a blanket that dares them to sleep,
because it wants to drag them down
into their darkness, gasping.

I hear this, I see this, I know this, I care;
I raised them, I love them, I do.
And it’s not that I want to, or don’t,
or should or shouldn’t or won’t,
it’s their time, not mine;
so for me, I’m sorry,
but at night,
I sleep like
a stone.

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

The photograph was taken at the Fundació Joan Miró museum in Barcelona, Spain. I cannot remember the artist’s name, but it was from an installation entitled Scars. 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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