Tag Archives: poetry

A force in some known direction

I thought: day has night, and light, dark.
But what has time got? Silence?
Well if so then I am content,
for that is the vector of me:
stillness becoming silence becoming stillness…
in truth, it is all I ever wanted.

By training I am an engineer, so mathematical metaphors often sneak into my poetry. A vector is exactly as it is described in the poem, a force moving in a direction. Think of a wind blowing at 20 mph from the east—that is a vector.

Of all the spiritual verities, perhaps humility—it being a virtue unique to man—is the most essential. With such a posture, one can see the world as it is and not as it pretends to be.

Thank you for reading A force in some known direction. 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 on Long Island, New York. 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’m tired of all this indecision

‘Yes!’ say I. Knock me flat, chop me up
and share my raw bits about—
let’s have a grand ole look at this ‘me’ of mine!
Surely I am more than the observant self,
a story I fabricate the while,
effect and cause, more deceiving than perceiving,
bleeding before I decide to make the cut.
And stop this talk of actions and indecisions,
I want to make this slice and do it down to the bone,
because I need to know…
if I am not the me I think I am, then who in God’s Name am I?

The question of free will is of great importance to me. I had been reading Michael Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge (highly recommended, by the way) and the issue was, and remains, much in my mind. It is, I believe, the very pith of the religious experience, and its absence brings into doubt the structure of the whole spiritualization process.

For my part, I still believe in free will but confess that I am intrigued by the subtlety and complexity of how it operates…an issue about which there is, as yet, no clear consensus. But, as this poem proves,  the ‘me’ in me cannot stop thinking about it!

Thank you for reading I’m tired of all this indecision. 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 in Killingly, RI on the way to work; no color alteration has been made. 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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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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The Mill Manager’s House


It was, I recall, spacious and modern,
open and elegant, and so very, very uncluttered.
My friend Dave lived there and I stayed over some nights,
pauper to the manor come, I as alien to it as it was to me—
so young, the wonder of it, I didn’t even know to yearn for it.

To be honest, I had forgotten it
and now I see they’re going to tear it down—
that is, after all, the lesson of that town:
life found and lost in the same grand way.
Most heartaches are like that,
especially the ones you push behind,
until they catch you—
and then you can’t help yourself,
lesson-learned or not
or whether you are still that innocent.

I was born, bred and buttered (as they say) in Grand Falls, Newfoundland, Canada. It was, when I was young, a mill town, the main industry being a once world-class pulp-and-paper mill that produced newsprint for some of the world’s most prestigious newspapers. My father worked there most of his life, and I for a short time too, off-and-on as a laborer and then as a student engineer. The mill operated for well over a century and was integral to the area. But it is gone now, shuttered over a decade ago and torn down since. I’ve mentioned it before, in Labour Day.

Don Parker (his wife was Doreen, a lovely lady) was mill manager in the early 70’s, and so got to live in an especially luxurious house on a local estate. I had known their son, Dave for years before even that, and essentially the story of the poem is exactly as stated. Dave stayed with y family occasionally, and I with them.

That house made me feel awkward; it was elegant on a scale and in a style beyond anything I had ever known. I was shocked by it, I suppose. Today I probably would not think twice about it, and as the poem says, until I saw the story of its eminent destruction I had forgotten all about it; the memory of how it had once made me feel came back in a rush. But that is the power of memories, I suppose. And poems.

Thank you for reading The Mill Manager’s House. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken directly from the CBC article about the building being destroyed. 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. 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.

 

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Non-parental events


Words pound through hot pulsed air
and bile rises everywhere:
Who I am is not who I was—alleles do not lie.
Unlike parents and siblings who did and do
and then, “like that” steal away.

No, even that’s not right,
it’s the words themselves who’ve moved
and mean less and say more than ever they did before.
Even I have shifted—I thought I was me,
but now that our swabs have told their tale
my skin is never going to feel right again.
Because it’s not just, Who am I?
it’s, Who are you?

NPE’s (non-paternity events, or more familiarly, non-paternal or non-parent events) are, for some people, a growing issue: they and their siblings submit their DNA to one of the many “Discover-Your-Ancestry” companies and the results are shocking: they find out that they are only half-siblings, or worse yet, no physical relation at all to the family they grew up with. In some cases the parents have died and no explanation can be had. In others, parents are unwilling to discuss the issue, or, when they do, it is at best a cover up, at worse a sordid story. In the worst scenario, some family members have turned on their half-siblings for “being hurtful.” As if who you are is of no consequence—which it is not, to those certain of the answer.

If you are affected by this situation, there is a Facebook group: “DNA surprise support group.” Check it out.

By the way, these Discover-Your-Ancestry DNA kit companies are scientific frauds. While accurate enough for identifying close familial relationships, tests run for identical twins often have huge differences in who their ancestors are said to be; nor will two different companies give similar results; nor will any company yield the same ancestry on two different tests for the same person. For a scientific rationale on why this “ancestry” approach to DNA analysis is bogus, check out Adam Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived. Highly recommended. I enjoyed it immensely.

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

The photograph was taken in on my way to work one sunny morning after an ice storm. 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 Royal Stores


I remember him only as a child would,
a tall, brusque, pine-knobby man
with a big bristle mustache
and red stains on the front of his apron.

At my request he took the hook
down off the pillar to fish
for a lean haunch in a wooden barrel,
weighing it on the big white scale
at the end of the hardwood counter.

Tearing a sheet of butcher paper
from a roll hung high, he tied it
with a pure white twine also pulled
from the magic of those heavens.

I stared, fascinated, as he scrawled something
on the package with a grease pencil
and nearly jumped when he snapped the string
with a mighty and swift tug of his bare hands.

Put it on…(God! What’s her name? I panicked,
Not Aunt Vi!)…Violet Jackman’s account,
I squeaked and started the long walk back,
having earned my treat of the sweet red meat.

So did we learn, all us little people then,
and all of it long gone now, just memories,
old histories to us who were there, soon lost—
hold on and let it all go, let it go…
Like that twine, which I still can’t snap like that,
I’ve tried.

My sister doubts this memory and I may well have confused a trip to the store for our Aunt Vi  with a recollection of going to the Royal Stores with my mother or father.  My sister points out that the walk from my aunt’s house to the Royal Stores was the farthest of all the possibilities, and that she would probably have sent me to the much closer Ryan’s Cash and Carry; and that the name on the account would have been my uncle’s, George Jackman, he being the bread winner. Or, at most, that she would have sent me to the Co-op Store, where she was a member.

Still, my memory is what it is, and I present it to you for all that a flawed piece of reflection it may be. We are all the little things of little people in little places.

My sister reminded me of many more things of the little town where we grew up:

Of Garl Morrisey’s pharmacy where you could get ‘floats’ made in paper cups, and who bought a Volkswagen Beetle and parked it outside, so that his enormous Newfoundland dog, Patty, would have a place to rest. That shop later moved next to the movie theater and became Winslows and is now Grand Falls Pharmacy; the original storefront then became a camera shop where I bought my first serious equipment.

Of the bakery that was imaginatively called The Bake Shop (owned by Miss Sally Spicer) where two of my other aunts worked; that was next to the soda bottling plant and both down from the local paper, The Advertiser, now long out of operation and the building gone. There was a shoe store in that area too (another aunt worked there) but that was somewhat later. It too is gone.

Of the fact that Aunt Vi’s best friend was Et Hunt.

Of the fact that in the Royal Stores (not to mention Stewarts in Windsor) there were no cash registers. All transactions were put in a little cage and run by wire to “the office” where change and/or receipts were made and returned the same way.

There is no Royal Stores today, the company is long out of business and even the building is gone; all that remains is a gravel parking lot.

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

The photograph is from the The Exploits Valley Royal Stores post of the Anglo Newfoundland Development Company blog and is used by permission. It is circa 1960s, the era of the poem; the Royal Stores is the blue and white building on the far right.

To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

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.

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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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