Tag Archives: tragedy

9/11/2001

Say not There is no God but Allah!
this Day brooks no negation:
He is God!
And when those jets
were stabbed into His back,
His Prophet, peace be upon Him,
wept down upon you
and held out His arms
to receive you.

In the perfect stillness, in the quiet,
over the waste, beyond the silence
you move. Movement is everywhere:
through the smoke, through the noise,
past the barriers and into the chaos,
to this very day.

You, you innocents,
you are in your perfection, perfect,
and will remain that way forever,
of this there is no doubt—
even after we have long forgot you.

As the years slip by, the truth is we forget the victims more completely. We invoke their memories on each anniversary, it is true, but as a single identity: the victims of that day’s terrible acts, the reason and the justification of everything that came thereafter. But we do not remember them, the individuals, the people, those ones who, each and every one, had lives and loves and hopes and fears and plans, and who deserve to be remembered as individuals, not as any government’s or generation’s justification.

Now, as the years have gone by, another set of neglected victims emerges: the heroic first responders, whose fight for health benefits and support too often falls on dead ears and colder hearts. There is just no political hay remaining to be made from the day anymore, excepting, of course, the sound bites at the memorial service.

Just do not say that the attack of 9/11/2001 had a religious motive. That day was a heinous act of betrayal of the true, peace-loving nature of Islam by a band of despicable, evil people whose ego-driven lust of power and terror knew no bounds of decency.

Thank you for reading 9/11/2001. This is a slightly edited version of a previous poem To this very day. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at my workplace. And yes, it flies today at half mast, as it should. 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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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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Mahvash Sabet transferred to hospital

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All:

Mahvash Sabet is a Bahá’í prisoner of conscience immorally incarcerated in her native Iran because of her religion. She is one of seven such unfortunates who are referred to as the Yaran or Bahá’í 7. As many of you know I have had the honor of posting several of her poems on this site:

At Such a Time You’ll Come

Bear This in Mind

Lights Out

(For more of her incredible poetry, click on the Other Writers menu option above, or better yet, purchase her book Prison Poems, available at Amazon in the USA and at George Ronald in Great Britain.)

It is with heavy heart that I report that she has been transferred to Intensive Care as reported in this blog,  for, among other things (I understand she has tuberculosis of the bone), a broken but untreated hip fracture.

Please say a prayer for this long suffering and tormented woman and the well over 150 other Bahá’í  prisoners of conscience currently in Iranian jails solely because of their religious beliefs. Please.

Thank you.

john

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Ian Hamilton’s “The Visit”

They’ve let me walk with you
As far as this high wall. The placid smiles
Of our new friends, the old incurables,
Pursue us lovingly.
Their boyish, suntanned heads,
Their ancient arms
Outstretched, belong to you.

Although your head still burns
Your hands remember me.

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I have, for some time, been championing Ian Hamilton’s poetry on my blog, mostly because there are no collections of his work in print. This poem is most probably about visiting his wife in a mental health institution and presumably after she has had some sort of shock treatment. Wistful, terse, gentle in the setup of a light touching moment, brutal in its honesty of the reality and tragedy of love, a dam of regret and sorrow barely held back. To me, this is classic Hamilton, and one can only stand back in awe at the world of being he sketches in only a few lines.

Click here for a list of the other Ian Hamilton poems on the Book of Pain.

For more on Ian Hamilton, I refer you to: his Wikipedia page.

Thank you for reading Ian Hamilton’s “The Visit”. 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

Comments © 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved.

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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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La Jornada del Muerto

Everybody walks the path of the dead,
some more often than others.
There are those who would extol it
for its majesty, its core of brutal simplicity,
but not me. The sere of the sun,
the drudgery of the trek,
the pitilessness of the far-off horizon
some deserts are just too deep.
Death is not swift here, it prefers to linger
and slither along beside you, judging.

So don’t ask the weary foot sloggers
the why of their tears—they don’t know,
nor the how of their laughter—it isn’t.
Just let me say this as surely I can:
of all that is beauty,
of all that makes beauty sweet and sad,
to me, they are, there, on that trail,
the most beautiful that can be.

La Jornada del Muerto actually translates as “the single day’s journey of the dead man.” I exercised some poetic license to translate it as “the path of the dead.” It originally referred to a 100 mile stretch of totally barren dessert along the route the 17th century Spanish Conquistadors used to travel from their headquarters in what is now Mexico to the furthest northern limits of their North American empire in what is now New Mexico.

I first read about La Jornada del Muerto while my wife and I were driving through New Mexico, en route from Kansas to El Paso, Texas to meet our just-born first grandson. He is a strapping and handsome brute today and a wonderful and kindhearted young teenager (we, of course, take all the credit for this without having done any of the hard work to make it so) which gives you some indication of how long an idea can sit with me before I deal with it in a poem.

The poem was written with the trials and tribulations of a very dear friend who is courageously fighting depression clearly in my mind and deeply in my heart. Que tengas buen viaje!

Thank you for reading La Jornada del Muerto. 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…
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Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the 1st Battle of Bull Run.

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