Tag Archives: sadness

Hats did

hats

Men cannot wear hats anymore.
Caps, yes, but caps are low brow,
a statement in a statement that no one
seems to care they are making.

But hats—men’s hats—they are the relic of
a choice that was once close and dear
but is now long and gone, lost forever.
No one sells them, no one knows how to block them
and nowhere, anymore, will you find racks to hold them.
And when men do try to wear them,
they never know when to remove them,
when to raise them and certainly not when to pull them down.
The art of it is clearly lost.

Still, they lasted longer than politeness,
you have to give them that,
if nothing else.

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I struggled with just the word ‘politeness’ and wanted, in fact, to use ‘common politeness’ instead, mostly because ‘uncommon politeness’ (think of the famous who detest each other, but who still make nice for the cameras) seems to be alive and well. However, it never scanned properly and in the end, you have to go with what comes well off the tongue.

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

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

john

The photo is in the public domain. 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 service I am now glad to repay

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Patrick died, years ago, in an alcoholic haze of shame, resentment and relief,
wondering, I suspect, where along the path it had all gone wrong,
yet knowing he had no answer. Long ago, he had befriended me,
and when I needed it—but did not expect it—he had been kind to me.
He was my friend.

Do I know as little as he then—me, now, with all my memories?
And will I, like him, question myself down to the grave’s edge?
Yes, probably—we all have our Irish to carry, we poor debtors, we do.
So goodnight, friend Patrick, I am here for you, let it go and sleep well.
You’ve earned it.

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Many years ago, when I had just returned to Newfoundland from Africa, newly married and near broke, Patrick Kennedy hired me to a job that I loved and which set the course of my career. He was a jovial, friendly fellow (among other things, I recall we shared a love for Bruce Springsteen) who was always willing to talk, always willing to help, always quick with a laugh and a quip. To hear recently, after all these years, how bitter and tragic was his end saddened me very much.

John Waters is a well-known Irish journalist who got sober in 1989. He, better than anyone else, has captured the heart of what it is to be Irish:

“Drinking [to the Irish] is not simply a convivial pastime, it is a ritualistic alternative to real life, a spiritual placebo, a fumble for eternity, a longing for heaven, a thirst for return to the embrace of the Almighty.”

I grew up with alcoholics all around me and swore off drink when, at seventeen, I became a Bahá’í. For this and many things else, I have thanked God ever since. I know too well the devastation addiction brings.

Thank you for reading A service I am now glad to repay. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in my home in Connecticut. 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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Gone in the blood

IMG_6943I was ten and David, my cousin,
was a just-then-teen lost boy.
Lost he was to the parents who uglied him away,
lost again to the younger ones he tried to protect,
lost finally to the madness in his cytoblast,
which copied him/copied him/copied him on,
until it copied him into his grave.
Our 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,
so they took him in.
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’ve 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 his family 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 he 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 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, the hero,
brave to try but broken to learn
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, but softer,
the deep, deep air so full of ever and forever?

He’s gone 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 had he stuck to learning
how to snowboard that day.
Would any other dream have been softer?

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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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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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Doesn’t it?

IMG_2161_2_3_4_5I was promised more than this, I’m certain.
Go to church, stay in school, wash behind your ears!
Keep it shut, listen to me, because I said so, that’s why.
But these tropes are all a debtor’s bargain, a fool’s bet—
the carrot and stick that is a spot of ease,
a moment of repose, with years left to fade away—
heart and hope, a hand to hold and no one left wanting.

All the talking, would, I thought, be done by now,
the lessons heard, wisdom learned and pride earned.
I bought it all, I sold it all and am ashamed to say
that I wanted it all. Surely that counts now for something.

 

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Thank you for reading Doesn’t it? 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 Acadia National Park in Maine. 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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Pain

IMG_1969It’s a strange thing to manage: of you and not, it, itself, an otherness,
living and breathing, in and yet beyond you, insidiously skulking around.
Nerve slasher, I call it. Breath thief, dignity embezzler, hope arsonist.
From your last kiss before sleeping to your first caress when awaking
it is the demon that haunts you in between: silent, unseen, crippling.
Is it possible to make such a one a friend?

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This poem was written by my sister, Cindy, who is currently—and heroically has been for some years—facing severe medical issues.

Thank you for reading Pain. 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 Park, on the Connecticut side of the Long Island Sound. To see my photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh blog.

john

Poem © Lucinda Lenora Hayden. Photograph and notes © John Etheridge; all rights reserved.

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