Tag Archives: sacrifice

The next after another

On the darksome trail of this black ledge
I am blind,
but that is what I feel, isn’t it—
the next step?

If on the rough scrabble shale
I slip and fall,
that is what I bleed, isn’t it—
the step back?

I am as lost on this path
as I am bound to it,
but that is what I am, isn’t it—
the lockstep?

Against the cliffs my noise-some heart
echoes wrongly,
but that is what I hear, isn’t it—
the step up?

And now? Now I’m just tired
‘either/or’ ‘stop/go’
but that is what this is, isn’t it—
the final step?

My wife and I were driving to a Bahá’í conference when I noticed a hand painted sign off to the side of the road which said “Black Ledge” and an arrow pointing off in a direction. It was both incongruous and odd; why would anyone point to a black ledge?

It struck a chord with me and I linked it up with a conversation I had previously had with my dearest friend and brother-in-heart, Sam, about service to humanity. Such service is an essential aspect of being human and yet it is not easy, nor does one pursue it without pitfalls and aches. Moreover, it can be wearisome and tiring, not the least of which because it can often fall on deaf ears and cold hearts. Yet, still it is important to continue and pursue such work, because you do it not just for the recipients, but for yourself, to learn humility and patience.

To learn humility and patience. That is my dear Sam in a nutshell.

Thank you for reading The next after another. 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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Seven rocks in the garden

I arranged in the garden, one rock each for the Seven of Tehran.
The first, the most beloved, rained down God’s mercy and
cooled the fired-up throng;
the second, clasping his brother’s corpse to his heart
rooted out their tongues with a poem;
the third in thanks shared sweets with his killer,
while the fourth scorned a rescue of lust and power.
The rest vied for the right to prepare the way, the one each for the other,
and so they died as they lived—united—chimed by a single blow.

But in truth, I lied to you,
it was eight rocks I arranged in the garden.
The last was a small, sharp-edged stone,
barbed on the top, cold to the touch
and set deep dark down in the loam.
I dig it up occasionally
to see if it is still there. It always is,
ground no smoother by its journey
but soldiering on as best it can,
trying to be patient, trying to be quiet,
trying to hear the call of its brothers.

This poem was written for the Seven Martyrs of Tehran, a group of prominent Bábis who were executed in Tehran, Iran, in February 1850. (The Bábi Faith was a precursor to, and evolved into, the Bahá’í Faith.) Their story is steeped in tragedy and beauty, and is remembered with great love and gratitude by the Bahá’í Faith today.

The seven heroes died fearlessly, willingly, content that their self-sacrifice was the noblest act they could perform for their Beloved. In dying, they were both humble in their poise and grateful in their hearts.

The significance of their public sacrifice cannot be overstated: they clearly represented the best that that society had to offer from both the clerical and merchant classes: men, who by the lofty standard of their conduct and the purity of their lives were recognized as outstanding citizens, honest, humble and trustworthy. Such, saw the people that day, were the souls that this new Faith attracted and which the current regime condemned. And while at first the general public were glad—near rabid glad—to see such paragons of wealth and power torn from their lofty heights for their base enjoyment, the demeanor and graciousness of the Seven Martyrs of Tehran soon stole the circus-like atmosphere from the crowd and proved to them what was being lost. The mob then went on to be not just abashed by the executions, but to become sympathetic to the Martyrs and their Cause and angry with those who had set up the spectacle for their gratification. Even one of the executioners was not immune to this effect: he left his post in shame and lived the remainder of his life in remorse for having participated in the act.

Mullá Husayn, another Bábi spiritual hero and martyr, Himself presaged the degree of sacrifice that would be necessary for the new Faith to flourish. Speaking in Tehran He had said, years earlier, “Our duty is to tell everyone about this New day. Many people will die for this Cause in this very city. But that blood will water the Tree of God, will cause it to grow, and shelter all people in every part of the world.”

The Seven Martyrs of Tehran were:

1) Haji Mirza Sayyid ‘Ali, the maternal uncle and guardian of the Báb, Founder of the Bábi Faith.
2) Mirza Qurban-‘Ali Barfurushi, a well-known mystical leader who enjoyed renown throughout Iran and included among his many admirers the mother of the Shah.
3) Haji Mulla Isma‘il Qumi, a trained Islamic cleric who had studied in Qum, Najaf and Karbala;
4) Aqa Sayyid Husayn Turshizi, whose youth, beauty, and demeanor dazzled the Shah’s representative to the executions; Aqa Sayyid Husayn was a mujtahid, an Islamic scholar, who had studied in Khurasan and Najaf and claimed that day the right to discourse with the most learned of the city to establish the truth of the Bábi Faith. He was refused.
5) Haji Muhammad-Taqi Kirmani, a well known Bábi merchant and a close friend to the uncle of the Báb, the first Martyr of the Seven.
6) Aqa Sayyid Murtada Zanjani, also a merchant and a brother of a martyr of another group of spiritual heroes, who died at a fort called Shaykh Tabarsi.
7) Aqa Muhammad-Husayn Maraghi’i (or Tabrizi), a servant of, and close friend to, Haji Mulla Isma‘il Qumi, the third Martyr of the Seven.

Thank you for reading Seven rocks in 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

© 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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Sullivan Ballou letter

Not a poem today, but a letter that is the essence of love and sacrifice. Written during the American Civil War, it is by Sullivan Ballou, a Major in the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers and to his wife Sarah, at their home in Smithfield, RI. I first heard it in the award winning Public Broadcasting Systems (PBS) series The Civil War by Ken Burns.

July 14, 1861
Camp Clark,
Washington DC

Dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. And lest I should not be able to write you again I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I am no more.

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but omnipotence can break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly with all those chains to the battlefield. The memory of all the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you, that I have enjoyed them for so long. And how hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes and future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and see our boys grown up to honorable manhood around us.

If I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I loved you, nor that when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name…

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless, how foolish I have sometimes been!…

But, 0 Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, I shall always be with you, in the brightest day and in the darkest night… always, always. And when the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool air your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again…
——————————————————————————–

Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the 1st Battle of Bull Run.

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In a pentacle

Birch, maple, sycamore, oak and beech—
these I planted in a five-pointed star.
When I die, bury me there at their center, deep, unwashed,
alone and nude. Say no prayers.
In the summers, leave them to rustle their hopes over me,
in the falls, let them click and clack their magic.
Let me, as I lay there, hear their big hearts thrumming,
feel their hard bark stretching and taste their hungry roots delving.
People will picnic near us, unknowing and unafraid, not knowing why, but still…

After a dozen years sacrifice first the birch, then the maple,
but wait longer to harvest the rest.
Wait until my bones have moldered
and the roots have taken hold and ground me down to dust.
Wait until the trees are massive, with royal thick trunks seeking the heavens
and tall green crowns gracing the ground.
Wait until it is a spot renowned for its beauty, its peace, its tranquility;
wait until it is forgot, and lost, grown over, where people come no more.

Then cut us down. Chop us up and stack us neat to dry.
Build a fire pit and burn us there.
Let them—they who hear us—come to talk with us and laugh and play.
We, for our part, will spark and sputter and risk our embers to rise.
We will crackle and thrum, we will roar for them, we will whisper
sweet tendrils of scented smoke deep into their hearts and minds,
binding them.
We will do everything in our power to stay for them—until we can not—
and then when we go, ever so sadlygladlyboth,
we will go hand-in-hand with the wind.
Except, and this is the law, nothing can be made or destroyed.
They’ll know that by then. You’ll see.

A pentacle is an amulet used in magical evocations. I used it because the concept of turning oneself into wood and being burned seemed a very mysterious and Celtic-like motif of transmutation, and the pentacle is a very Celtic symbol.

some pentacles

some pentacles

Of course I was not really interested in the foolishness of actual ritual magic, but in using it as a metaphor for the real magic of touching hearts, of reaching out to people and with humility, sacrifice and love, affecting their lives. In a certain sense, that is what a poem is, a magical spell, an incantation to create meaning, launched to a life of its own.

I am grateful to an Iranian friend for the Persian metaphor of a tree that shows its humility by bowing closer to the ground the older it gets.

Thank you for reading In a pentacle. 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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The candle

How have you made me?
Say not, With wax and wick and a taper trimmed.
For I am light and I am heat,
I am an evening spent alone
befriended by the memory of a scent.
And I am undone.

Your bright flame in my dark night
has unmade me, and in unmaking me,
has made me.
I, something, was nothing.
in becoming nothing, something,
my essence, to burn for you…
Some would call this sacrifice. Not me.

I am fascinated by the concept that true sacrifice—sacrifice made out of love—returns more than it gives up. The inspiration for the poem was a quotation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Head of the Bahá’í Faith for many years. The full text is here, from which I took this quote:

“…ye must die to yourselves and to the world, so shall ye be born again and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Behold a candle how it gives its light. It weeps its life away drop by drop in order to give forth its flame of light.”

What is our true destiny? That is the question the candle asks us. But where else would the light of truth and the heat of love come from, in this world, if not from us?

Thank you for reading The candle. 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: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Upon a time

I used to go swimming in Africa
to defy the water demons there—
bugs, worms, hippos and crocs
and test if they were near. I’d think,
Hey Mr. Hippopotamus, where are you!?
Will you take me in your jaws
and roar me loudly home?
Come on Mr. Hippopotamus,
surely you’re not afraid!

I know it all seems so silly now.
Yet there are times when on the road cycling,
as the sun starts pulsing through the trees
and the light starts dancing on the edge,
that all I can hear is my muffled heart, in rhythm;
it gets colder and everything goes dark
and I start flailing to and fro
looking up and around
holding my breath,
treading water
and waiting,
just waiting…

Africa is beautiful, tragic and wonderful. Years ago I went there to live—first in Rwanda and then in Tunisia—for my religion. I am a Bahá’í and in my religion, the place you go to serve is referred to as your “post.”

I really did go swimming in Africa while I was in Rwanda, something ex-patriots seldom do because of the water born diseases and dangerous animals there. It was at Lake Kivu, high up in the hills (called locally moraines) where the dangers, although lessened, were still real. We stayed at a small, simple hotel run by an order of Belgian nuns; the area is close to the famous mountain gorilla habitat, although on that trip we did not go searching for them. I fear that after the Rwandan genocide, the hotel and a chance for a like experience, are now gone.

Thank you for reading Upon a time. 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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