Tag Archives: sad

That day Spaz tried to kill me

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It was spring break, we were at the movies,
and I was laughing so hard that it hurt
with the “hands-around-my-throat, I can’t-breathe” type of hurt.
Finally, I managed to get air enough 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,
wheezing and wondering:
is this it?/am i dying?/what will everybody think?
And as God is my witness, that only made it funnier.

It turns out that at that point Spaz had already lived over
half of his life, while I only a third (thus far) of mine.
What fairness is that?
Perhaps that is the point—my point, or his point to me—
or at least someone’s point to someone.

Because the funny thing is, I can hear him laughing as I write this—
my little buddy, laughing—and all I want to do is laugh with him.
And as God is my witness, I’m still not sure what we’re laughing about.

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Tony told me at 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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roar


Old lion

The old lion left his pride behind him
and went out into the night.
It’s hard to live on the high plains:
it takes courage, strength and endurance,
and a love as deep as the hunt is hot.
Yet, now readied, this last time he went,
not rustling the grass, not raising the dust,
not even stirring the air, lighter than light.
And while he should have ranted at it,
chased after it, should have
torn into it and bought it down,
it was he who fell instead,
going quiet and still at the last.
What a terrible silence that was and still is.

It was only later, under the sun,
as we lowered him into his grave,
I realized that I—if no one else—
could still hear him roar.

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Jack Etheridge Sr., my father, passed away recently. You may have recalled that last year, about this time, he experienced a heart attack and the family feared to lose him them, an event I captured in the poem Free to Fly. And while, since then, we had the bounty of his presence, at the end he was failing fast and we were glad to let him go; he was just one month shy of his 90th birthday. But do not grieve for the family, please, as we do not grieve for him. His was a life to be celebrated, not a death to be mourned.

While flying to be with my father before he died, I decided that when the time came I was going to text the message, “The old lion has fallen,” to my family and friends, as it seemed to me this would sum up the greatest part of the truth of his passing. The idea stuck with me and en route I started this poem, finishing the first draft on the flight home afterward.

This is the first of (at least) a trilogy of poems about my father’s passing that I will be releasing over the next little while. I hope you enjoy them.

The photograph was taken at Newport, RI at one of the once stately homes of the rich, and now the gawking place of us merely ordinary people.  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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As it will

branches

Worried he’d die,
hoping he would,
angry he might,
sad he could,
confused he had,
thinking he should—
tired, so very, very tired.
We are made from
chaos, regret and guilt,
Why, why, why, we ask,
but does that really matter?

We are so very, very
we very human humans,
and ought as naught
we stay awake to hear the murmurs
’til the dawn comes ’round again.
Thus they melt, one to the other,
next and next and next,
until that day by the hospital bed
when it all focuses in, even easier
than it had once slipped away.
Let it go—you are,
that’s enough, let it go,
just breathe.
Again.
Hear that?

swril2

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

The photograph was taken from the rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by 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: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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Repeat, as necessary

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Just a little hibernation—
that and some mild exhaustion,
nothing more, really.
Thanks for asking though.
And you?

 

swril2

 

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

The photograph was taken during a walking day in Boston. What caught my attention is the surprising richness of the tones/details (not to mention the old bubblegum) of something one tends to just usually overlook—the place where you step. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge and Héloïse Haven; 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: © 2014 by John Etheridge and Héloïse Haven,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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In the eye

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Haint blue to ward you, so true, so true,
haint blue to draw you, how’d-ye-do, how’d-ye-do!
It’s wicked them nights, could you? would you?
believing you can, knowing you might,
a few, some do, new and renew,
the devil in you— be done! haint blue.
Writ there and then washed clean away.

upHaint blue is an azure paint that slaves and their descendants applied to doorways and windowsills to ward off spirits and is derived from Western African beliefs that water forms a divide between the human and spirit worlds. It is still practiced in the U.S.A. by slave descendants who live in the Georgia Sea Islands and who typically speak the Creole tongue Geechee, or it’s cousin Gullah in South Carolina. (From the article Cabin Fever, Smithsonian magazine, Oct 2013.)

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The practice is wide spread and carries on to this day in North Africa as well. I still remember the azure painted doors and windows of the brick and white plaster houses of Tunisia.

Thank you for reading In the eye, and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments. Please consider visiting my photography blog, the Book of Bokeh.

john

Poem and notes © 2014 by 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: © 2014 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

 

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In Normandy, in November

I’d just left a small but well-kept graveyard
where again I’d searched but failed to find my father’s grave—
I was beginning to wonder if it mattered.
And that was the moment, while closing the gate,
that I heard it, a set of Great Highland bagpipes
noising down the cobbled way.

A piper in regimental regalia, Glengarry, sporran and kilt,
even a sgian-dubh poking from his hose,
was slowly marching along the road, plaintively playing Going Home.
And amazingly, from every neat brick home from both sides of the street,
they came to stand and listen: young and old, small and tall,
men and women, each solemnly watching the one-man parade.

After he passed I asked an elderly man who the piper was.
His English was as bad as my French but eventually
I understood that the young man’s father used to annually
march this route, calling to the comrades he had left behind
in the scattering of graveyards thereabouts.
When the elder had become too infirm to stand his watch,
the son had taken up the call. Then the old Frenchman grew silent.

And in that silence, his eyes, soft under their big bushes,
lingered long on the back of the piper. Close but not,
I could hear just then the roar and screams of
desperate men in desperate times raging through
and around and over us. It was, no doubt, a time
when all that could be owned was chance, and as luck
would have it, he lived and mine didn’t, but more
importantly, he remembered what I had forgot.
Then catching himself, he nodded a curt Au revoir,
but before letting him go, I took the blood-red poppy
from my breast and pinned it to his own.

This poem originated from an idea poised by my dear friend and wonderful poet, Julia Dean-Richards who blogs at A Place for Poetry. She proposed co-writing a poem on the line, “Where would you put your poppy down?” But of course I botched the whole idea by making it the original title of this poem and writing the whole thing from beginning to end because I couldn’t stop, once the story got in my head. And then, eventually I changed the title. (That’s me for you, no gratitude, not even for a great line of poetry. Sorry, Julia!)

The story presented here is not factual, although I hope, real. I am particularly thankful that my father, although a veteran of the Second War, is still alive and hearty at 89. The part about the piper is, however, real and happened to my sister. She and her husband were visiting a small Canadian Military graveyard in Normandy when a young man came marching by playing his bagpipes in honor of his father who had recently passed away.

Some notes on the poem: Normandy, France was the site of the Allied invasion into Europe and against Germany during World War II, and was the site of much fierce fighting and loss of life, as attested to by the many military graveyards located there. November 11th, also known as Armistice Day, Veteran’s Day and Remembrance Day is dedicated in North America and Europe to the memory of those who have fallen in military conflict. The traditional emblem of the day throughout the Commonwealth Nations and Europe is a blood-red poppy, a flower which grows wild in the numerous graveyards dedicated to the fallen of the 20th century’s two World Wars, and as immortalized in the poem commemorating the dead, In Flander’s Fields. (Written, by the way, by a Canadian. We’re everywhere.)

Scottish regimental bagpipe bands wear a quite formal version of the highland costume: the Glengarry is a traditional Scot’s hat; the sporran is a pouch worn around the waist to hang in the front and the kilt is a knee-length and manly skirt-like garment with pleats at the rear and woven in a particular clan or organizational tartan color; it is traditionally worn by men in the Highlands of Scotland. A sgian-dubh (pronounced skee-en-doo) is a small, single-edged knife traditionally worn at the top of the mid-calf high socks (hose) of a kilt wearer. Bagpipes are a traditional Gaelic instrument that are based on smaller instruments originally introduced to the Iberian peninsula by the Muslim Moors of North Africa. They come in many sizes, but the largest and most impressive is the Great Highland bagpipeGoing Home is a tune adapted from the Largo section of Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony (the 9th) as a spiritual hymn.

Thank you for reading In Normandy, in November. 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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Mahvash Sabet’s “Lights Out”

Mahvash Sabet is a Bahá’í prisoner of conscience currently serving an unjust 20 year sentence in Iran. Read more of her story here.

Lights Out

Weary but wakeful, feverish but still
fixed on the evasive bulb that winks on the wall,
thinking surely it’s time for lights out,
longing for darkness, for the total black-out.

Trapped in distress, caught in this bad dream,
the dust under my feet untouchable as shame,
flat on the cold ground, a span for a bed,
lying side by side, with a blanket on my head.

And the female guards shift, keeping vigil till dawn,
eyes moving everywhere, watching everyone,
sounds of the rosary, the round of muttered words,
fish lips moving, the glance of a preying bird.

Till another hour passes in friendly chat,
in soft talk of secrets or a sudden spat,
with some snoring, others wheezing
some whispering, rustling, sneezing—
filling the space with coughs and groans,
suffocated sobs, incessant moans—

You can’t see the sorrow after lights out.
I long for the dark, the total black-out.

I am not sure what breaks my heart more: the difficult circumstances of Mahvash’s life, health and incarceration or the beauty and sublimity of her poetry under such difficult circumstances! Please keep Mahvash in your hearts; she is gravely ill in prison, suffering from tuberculosis of the bone.

Please consider purchasing Mahvash Sabet’s poetry as an act of solidarity in the fight for human rights: in the US, from Amazon; in the UK, directly from the publisher.

john

This English edition of Lights Out is ©2013 by Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, who adapted the original Persian texts into English; all rights reserved.

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