Tag Archives: survival

The princess’ story



My daddy was wonderful, she says.
I remember as a little girl sitting in his lap,
my head on his chest, loving the smell of
his cherry pipe tobacco on his shirt.
He would read his paper and stroke my hair
and later, before bed, he would brush it,
counting out loud: one, two, a hundred.
When he checked in on me, I would
pretend to be asleep and not, as usual,
reading after lights out. He would gently
lift the bangs from my eyes and say,
Princess, enough! It’s time to go to sleep,
but still I would pretend, it was our little game.
Then, when I was fourteen and he showed me
it wasn’t a game anymore, I cut my hair
the next day, and when he got angry
I yelled back that it was because I never
wanted him to touch me again. I had never
seen him cry before and after that he never
saw me cry again, although we both did,
often, alone, but after a while, I stopped.
I mean, why bother?

Today, my daughter also has beautiful hair
but I keep hers short too. And while she will
never know the smell of cherry pipe tobacco
rising from the heat of a heartbeat,
she will never be trapped in her own tower
or be fooled into thinking that the brave knight
can’t also be the clawing dragon.
It doesn’t matter that the knight got lung cancer
and rode his guilt into the grave.
I still love him, but it doesn’t matter.

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The writer Tim O’Brien once distinguished between happened truth, when the events actually occurred, and story truth, where the events may have happened in parts to several people and which, at least, summarize the essence of a real experience or experiences.

The princess’ story is not, to my direct knowledge a happened truth, but it is a story truth. In fact, there are tiny bits of things I have picked up from several people in this poem.

As to its subject all I know is that there is too much abuse and pain in this world. We must make it stop.

Thank you for reading Short, very short, and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph is entitled Rapids and was taken in Putnam, CT. 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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Enough

I do not hold you enough,
except when the night comes rumbling in,
wetting and chilling the air before it.

I do not hold you enough,
except in my dreams
when they bend down all around me
and dredge the day more darkly.

I do not hold you enough,
except when I cannot wake to the dawn
and stay instead, frightened and fighting myself,
holding on to the warm smoke you’ve become,
like I’m some shaman begging his gods for healing.

I just do not hold you enough.

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Thank you for reading Enough. 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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On this bridge, as far as I can see

Out of control, whirligig,
one round, two rounds, three rounds, stop—
the road a blur of nothing having happened at all.
Except (in a right world)
I’d be dead in the river below
instead of up here on the bridge
needing a smoke so bad
I thought I’d eat the pack.

But isn’t that the truth of it?
Because that’s when they nail you the hardest,
those pesky, insolent things,
those principles of your certainty.
Eventually they catch up with you
and stumble you like dozens of tiny hooks
bowing humbly at your feet,
each pointing their little barbs straight at you:
icy roads and too much speed,
truth and honor and lies—
and you ask yourself as you sit there,
Why did I ever think
I could get away with that?

In 1981 I was working as the site engineer at the construction of a gas transmission plant that I had designed in northern Alberta, Canada. Being December in northern Alberta, and especially then in the 80s, that meant that the world was made up of cold, ice and snow, and after that more cold, ice and snow.

That day was the last working day for the Christmas Holiday; we wouldn’t be back to the site until after the New Year. I was the last to leave and start down the rural, dirt road that had been cut into the forest to where the plant was located. I was en route to my apartment in Calgary in southern Alberta, but foolishly, while my friends in northern Alberta knew I was going south for the holidays, my friends in the south did not know when to expect me, if at all; I hadn’t really shared my plans with them.

Being excited at the thought of the vacation, I did not take into account what I was doing until I crested an icy hill. I am going way too fast, I thought, and I was. Going down the other side I had to tap my truck’s brakes to have any hope of making it around a bend at the bottom of the hill heading to a bridge that was over  a 20 foot drop to a rocky, fast and icy cold river below. When I did I instantly lost control. I can’t remember if or how I fought for control of the vehicle, but I do remember ending up swinging around in lazy circles in the exact same spot in the middle of a bridge—three times—and stopping looking exactly in the direction I should be going. How I wasn’t in the river below I still don’t know. After a few minutes, and yes, a cigarette or two (I’ve since quit) I put the truck in gear and drove on, slowly, shaken and thinking of what could have just happened, but didn’t.

To quote a favorite prayer: I beseech Thee to aid and assist me at all times and under all conditions, and seek from the heaven of Thy grace Thine ancient favor.

Thank you for reading On this bridge, as far as I can see. 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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Sometimes, it’s all you have

The fighting is hardest at night
when stray rounds explode everywhere;
you wonder then, Did I do enough?
Could I possibly have done more?
That is how you learn it,
this weariness that commands,
because the survival of survivors
is risky,
even after the firefight is done.

And it’s not exactly chance
and it’s not exactly wisdom
and it’s not exactly anything I understand,
but all the hopes, prayers, curses and tears
are, in the end,
the only comforts left to those
who carry on as best they can.
Mind and body suffer both,
but some of it never heals.

The last two lines of this poem are based on the quote, “Mind and body both suffer, however. Some of it never heals.” from The Napalm detail by Claude Williams, an on-line essay about his Korean War experience serving at infamous Outpost Harry in 1953.

I was speaking with a friend and we were discussing the pain and worry that we, as parents, go through over  our children’s struggles. And while I would not equate the intensity of fear every parent has over their children’s life choices to that of being in a theater of war, I was struck by the similarity of the processes: the worry, the sense of loneliness, the self-doubts, the fear, the worrisome nights and the struggle with sleep.

Thank you for reading Sometimes, it’s all you have. 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 phoenix

I awoke drenched and panting
with only the echoes to befriend me,
and prayed, despite my grieving,
that you were still the phoenix striving,
(burning, rising) your life—your faith—surviving.
Why can’t I love you as I ought?

I have talked about Sam, my dearest friend, before. We have now been friends since we first met in Egypt, thirty years ago and still, today, I love him more, appreciate him more and learn more from him each year that I know him.

Samandari (his last name) translates as “phoenix” and this poem is about the many nights I have woken up worrying about him. On these nights it often takes many prayers to calm me down and let me get back to sleep. If I do.

Thank you for reading The phoenix. 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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