A Generous Welcome

Silence is not an emptiness. Any absence brings a presence. Those who practice the difficult experience of silence welcome what it welcomes.

A Generous Welcome

The snow is falling through eternity’s quiet
where everything here lives within. And now
mid-morning the sunlight falls across the

hemlocks, it too lying within the ubiquity
of quiet, a quiet arriving from the silence
that was here before Alpha and will be here

after Omega. This morning when the turkeys,
twelve of them, tumbled in their tumultuous
flutter down from roosting in the dark

where they sleep one hundred feet up in
the empty-leaved maples, the snow shook
down on the quiet of the cat, and she rushed

through the brush to the back door where she waited
for me. The silence, of course, was everywhere.
The turkeys nodded their stable way up the hill,

following the inevitable trail that has become
their day, seeming to trust the path will bring
them to seeds and corn, lost fruit. The light

glistened along the sheen of their backs bringing
gold and green out from what against the drifts
seemed only a study in black. Sound does come,

even in the hush of the turkeys’ enormous feet
imprinting the snowfall, even in the small fall
of flake upon flake. Quiet comes to the silence.

–Jack Ridl

First Published in Crab Orchard Review

Subsequently published in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

He Brings Home Everything

A faculty member at the college where I loved to be with students once emailed me the following: “You use too many exclamation points.”

What’s the deal with the fear of enthusiasm? Seems to me it’s more essential than ever what with the damper dropped over the world by 45. So many parts of our lives deserve and need our enthusiasm. Our dogs let us know that all day: when we respond to them without delight, warmth, affection their ears droop. Cosmic signal, I’d say.

I emailed this snotty response: “You use too many periods.”

I have read editorialized essays where the complaint is Americans use the word “love” so much that it becomes meaningless, that it should be reserved only for those few people one truly loves. I say we can never use it enough. Many a tradition all but demands that we love and love and love, be it ice cream, an enemy, ones beloved.

My new year’s resolution? To use way too many exclamation points! I love exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

He Brings Home Everything

Under the house there’s room for a cat.
The porch is piled with clocks, bicycles,
broken windows, toasters, magazines.
The kitchen has minarets and steeples and
towers of old tins, cereal boxes, the top
one always with a face: Hopalong Cassidy,
Willie Mays, Daffy Duck. Every shelf
holds a montage of mugs, match boxes,
old platters, coffee pots, an entanglement
of whisks, forks, ladles, and spoons.

A hornet’s nest dangles from the ceiling fan
hanging next to a mobile of fish bones.
The bathtub overflows with children’s books.
Four years ago, he closed the door on two
full bedrooms. In his own room: puppets,
trains, kites, stuffed and wooden animals,
pop-up books, soldiers, clowns, snow
globes, penny banks, tin cars and trucks.
There is a rowboat covering a leak in the roof.

–Jack Ridl

from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)

Framing the Morning

The tax bill. Hmmmm. Maybe some of you will benefit. Of course the bill is about money itself. Economics, our type of economics, often leaps out of its own context and enters us in ways we might not realize or believe has an impact. “Pay attention.” Does it imply that the other is to pay and therefore lose something and then expect something in return? If so, then what if we just give attention? I like to think that the latter is a way of loving. Attentiveness is an act (There’s a verb within that noun.) of love.

Framing the Morning

Next to the sofa, books: an atlas, the poems of John Clare,
        a guide to wildflowers.

The sudden lash of light across the kitchen window sill—
        the silver top of the pepper mill
        the pale yellow of the egg timer
        the sparkle of whisks.

Under the hemlock, empty seed cases across the mulch, dark
        droppings left by the scatter of sparrows.

In the branches, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, then
        the flash of a goldfinch;
        across the yard, the cat curled by a rotting stump.

Clouds come. The sun lifts itself into the crown of trees. The leaves
        quiver.

Toast. Currant jam. Coffee with cream. The chipped
        plate with the half moon painted in its center.

Out by the swatch of jewel weed and day lilies, two
        chairs, the light falling across them,
        their shadows growing longer.

The morning paper, folded open to the crossword.
        On the porch, a blanket and binoculars.

–Jack Ridl

from Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

Continue reading

Out in the Fields with Dogs a Day Before Christmas

The dogs are back. Carrying their mystery and restoring wonder and mystery and quiet joy to the most common of experiences. I like to think it’s where we all belong.

Out in the Fields with the Dogs a Day Before Christmas

Their great white heads take me
deeper into the snow. They lift
their noses into the wind-soaked
air, then push further into the drifts,
finding the lost smells in the roots,
weeds, and matted ground cover. They
know the deer have walked here,
their own heads lifted high into
the morning. I can only imagine
what worlds fill the dogs’ heads,
what takes form from the thousand
smells we can never know, their
dreams made from all these grasses,
mud, scat, and fur. Maybe something
takes the scents and stirs them into
some bewilderment of wolves
walking a ridge. We walk on.
At home, the Christmas tree,
trimmed with strings of tiny lights,
glitter-covered glass, tinsel, angels,
nesting birds, toy drums, and
the withering paper globes we
made when we were children,
stands in a back window. You
are baking kolaces, baking them
the way my father did, rolling
the soft dough over the apricots,
raisins, apples, and poppy seed.
The snow is falling harder. The dogs
look back, then come to my side, sit
and gnaw at the ice frozen to their feet.
This year it will be the two of us,
and the dogs. We’ve been told
the full moon is to be the brightest
it’s been in 90 years. We’ll watch
it out the bedroom window as it
crosses through the trees, low
in the southern sky, the dogs
asleep at the foot of our bed.

–Jack Ridl

from Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

 

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

A Christmas List for Santa

Unless we lived there I wonder if many of us would have thought we would ever be terribly concerned about an election in Alabama. Waking up Wednesday morning to learn that a morally vacuous candidate had been defeated brought an odd and relieving joy. And in this time it renewed a bit of belief in what one would usually consider impossible. And so–

A Christmas List for Santa

A Wednesday afternoon with no thought of Thursday

Three weeks in the woods, two by myself, one with my father

My father

Cups of tea, plates of sugar cookies, the first ones I ever made,
the dough still sticking to my fingertips

Comic books from the late ’40s: Little LuLu, The Green Hornet, Felix the Cat

Every creek from the upper peninsula of Michigan

The last page from twenty unpublished novels

The ease of a dog’s sleep

Five gold rings

A moon-draped evening among the birds in the hemlocks

Any snow-covered pile of leaves

Photographs, I don’t care how many, of my daughter just before
          she smiles for the camera

Seven moments with the lucidity of cutting yourself with a bread knife

                        Whatever happens between what happens

The liturgy of an old monk laughing

–Jack Ridl

From Practicing To Walk Like A Heron (Wayne State University Press)

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

Repairing the House

Right after college our daughter received a year long Watson Fellowship for her project proposal: to paint in the footsteps of Paul Cezanne. She began in Paris, finished in Aix en Provence where–hard to imagine–the curator invited her to paint in Cezanne’s studio anytime she wanted. We visited her, and on the first morning after our arrival in Paris, I asked her to give me a walking tour.
We headed up the street and then down an alley where she said, “Look up at all the balconies.” I did. “See the flower pots on each one?”
“Yep.”
“What do you notice about them?”
“Uh, they’re beautiful.”
“Yes, but look again. They are all cracked.”

No one made a trip to the garden center to get new ones. Time and again we learn that something wonderful can happen, is preserved, evoked, when we recognize we really don’t have to repair everything, that some things when fixed lose their ineffable presence.

Repairing the House

We will learn the house can live
without our changes. We will

listen to its language. The cracks
along the stairway–they are sentences.

We will read what they say
when we go up, again when

we walk back down. When we
leave our sleep, our bed will hold

our place as the floor creaks under us.
If we fix the broken window, then

we will open it. The other windows
rise on their tracks; that’s enough;

one staying shut, tight, will still bring
light for any day, the others the breeze.

And we will learn to be with the ivy
straying along the back brick walls,

twisting itself into the mortar, each spring
a chunk or two falling into the holly.

We will feel a draft under the porch door.
We could block the cold from sliding

toward our feet. Instead, we will wear
socks, ones you made, while we sit facing

each other, reading on the sofa, its stuffing shifting
under us, the pillows giving way to what is left.

–Jack Ridl

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

Walking the Creek with Dogs

We were walking in Douglas the other day with new pup, Vivian, and a couple stopped to “talk dogs.” One of the women said, “These days, my dear dog has done something so wonderful for me, and she of course doesn’t know it. She says nothing about how terrible things are. And I talk to her as I always do, but a different feeling comes, a kind of quiet comforting feeling.”

Walking the Creek with Dogs

“I do not think all dogs are angels. In fact, I don’t think any are.”
–Jeanne Schinto in The Literary Dog

Mine are. Muddy
angels, slopping
their way ahead of me.
I have to watch
my every step.
They head on, tails
wagging like assurances
that this is happiness.
Nothing in their heaven
is pure, just a twisting
creek, sand, rock,
rotting logs. Sometimes
they catch something
in the air’s great mix
of scents, and they
veer, soaked, up
the bank, dripping
and sniffing into the
loosestrife, milkweed,
sassafras, and thistle.
I hear only the snap
of a stick or their soft
rustle through the mat
of grasses. Then they
are back, splashing
through the water,
stopping only to shake.
I slap at a deer fly,
feel August on my neck..
They carry their thick
coats on down the creek.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Blackwater Review
and
Voices Along the River Anthology, 2001

 

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

Last Chores of Fall

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. After this year with 45 it’s simply too easy to be ironic, snarky in response to what is to be a time of gratitude. I’m thinking of the idea of negative space, how what’s not there can be a good and accentuates attention to that which is worthy of attention.

Certainly deserving attention–each of you. This poetry project has become much more than I could have imagined a year ago when “I just had to do something.” I have heard from you, you from everywhere in the States and abroad. You have sustained this heart and writing each week has brought an ineffable sense of connecting with you and hoping to be a tiny support to you in your days.

I send this out not to a mass, but to each of you. That’s precisely how it feels.

My thanks this Thanksgiving and every day,

Last Chores of Fall

The trace of November lingering
along the ridge behind our house,
the exhale of yellow-gold
within the stagger of oaks.
tells us it is time to move inside,
let our blood return to its quiet
wander, the year now browning
toward a sudden frost. This
afternoon I will slowly uproot
the impatiens, tossing
their gasps of pink, white,
and salmon into the dark
of the compost pile. Remembering
to bend at the knees, I’ll carry
the cracked and chipped pots
back to the garden’s shed,
stack them, letting the clay
of one pot settle into the dirt
in another. I’ll bring in
the geraniums, their twisted,
leggy stems nearly leafless
and cut them down to hopeful
nubs, then set them on the sill.
The dogs will watch as I wash
and dry the trowel my father
used for thirty years. Each
year he added another row
or two of flowers. I’ll hang
the trowel on its rusty nail.
The dogs will lift their mysterious
noses into the changing air, into
the smells of mud, moldering
leaves, the scent of approaching
snow along the stream below
the barren ridge. Then I will
turn back to the house, the sun
burning down early into its setting.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Rattapallax

 

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

After Reading Dom John Chapman, Benedictine Abbot

There are times for those who pray that it doesn’t seem possible. What words would one mutter in response to a horrific sorrow? Silence may be the most sacred of all prayers. I often think that prayer is there to lead us into being prayerful. Perhaps that’s one way to stand in opposition to what assaults all that is good and to overcome that which separates the sacred from the everyday. This week’s poem tries to enter that way of being.

After Reading Dom John Chapman, Benedictine Abbot

“Pray as you can; not as you can’t.”
My prayers will sit on the backs
of bedraggled donkeys, in the sidecars
of Harleys, in the pockets of night
watchmen, on the laps of widows.
They will be the stones I walk by,
the smudges I leave on anything I touch,
the last place the last snow melts. They
will be brown, weekdays, potato pancakes.
They will stick to the undersides of porches,
docks, dog paws, and carpets. When I’m sick,
my cough will carry them. When you leave
in the morning, they will sink into the bed,
the sofa, every towel. I will carry them
in the modesty of my feet. Everything
will be praying: My dog will be petitioning
for mercy when he stops to sniff a post.
Every window in our house will be
an offering for supplication. The birds
at the feeder will be twitching
for my sins. I will say my prayers
are bread dough, doorknobs, golf tees,
any small and nameless change of heart.
When I forget my prayers, they will
bundle up and go out on their own
across the street, down into the basement,
into a small town with no mayor where
there is a single swing in the park. When
I forget, they’ll know I was watching TV,
the sky, or listening to Basie, remembering
the way my mother and father jitterbugged
to the big band station, he pulling her close,
then spinning her out across the green kitchen floor.

—Jack Ridl

from Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

Image

The Inevitable Sorrow of Potatoes

 

It’s been a year now, and as W. H. Auden said, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” That certainly hit me this morning as I realized that you and I have now been with one another for 52 weeks of the “In Time Project.”

Many countered what Auden proclaimed by saying that poetry is created, composed, and meant for “one human heart,” that there is where something can happen. That has been the hope all along for this project, not to combat but to counter 45.

My sister sent this photo below of the mugs that she and her friend use each morning as they have coffee with one another: one has coffee with cream, the other black. A metaphor there? Well, one can say that everything is metaphor. Perhaps this week’s poem is both what it is as well as revealing what these days for all of us are like. There’s the word: “like.”

The Inevitable Sorrow of Potatoes

Half way into the ubiquitous diminishment
that is November our dog and I are here
on the porch. The space heater parting

the cold, keeps parts of us warm.
But this hand holding this pen
feels the chill while a black-capped

chickadee, a downy woodpecker, and
the ever upside down nuthatch cling
to the feeder. In mid-June we turned

over our sun-spotted plot and settled
what would be golden-brown potatoes
into the company of worms and along

the bypass of moles. We believe in
the modesty of potatoes, the humble
spuds that carry the legacy of famine.

There can be no knowing if things can
molder deep, if a blight can singe
the mottled skins: scarring variations

on the darkening silence that too soon
will shorten the dog’s walk into pause
and sniff, a few steps more to another

sniff and then back home. A cardinal
is taking fallen sunflower seeds
back to his mate, head cocked

in the hemlock. One night we surprised
ourselves talking about potatoes, their
stark humility, how they offer to the sanguine

one percent an au gratin choice, to the hungry
a skin with a slap of butter. Last month
we sent our spades into their patch, carved

them out from the summered earth.
Their skins had blackened, marred
by what we could not know was there.

How silly to mourn this. November is Vermeer.
We know the kitchen will take the light, and
the potato soup will comfort, as it always has.

–Jack Ridl

Forthcoming in St. Peter and the Goldfinch (Wayne State University Press)

 

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!