St. Francis in Disney World

God is love.

“Suffer the little children to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of God.”

Printed on the T-shirt I’m wearing is “Be the person your dog thinks you are.” It’s from Dog Tired Studio and Gallery owned by our Key West friend and artist Sean P. Callahan. Julie studied under him. You might enjoy visiting his website.

If 45 had a dog and if 45 is the person his dog thinks he is, that dog would think, “I know you would take my pups, overcrowd them in a cage, and then make sure to use the Bible to support you.”

I can hear Jeremiah. And poor Jesus.

St. Francis in Disney World 

The children come up to him, touch
his robe and giggle. He blesses them. They
run and ask their parents to take their photo
peeking out from behind his filthy holiness.
Mickey quietly comes up beside him, his
huge fingers dangling like loaves of Wonder
Bread, tilts his head as if to say you better
leave or take a bath and put on clean jeans.
St. Francis whispers, asking for the birds.
Mickey shakes his head. St. Francis holds
his place in line while each ride spins its
squealing riders round or up or down: a
chug, a plunge, a long and hopeless cast
of thousands, ton of hot dogs, fries, and
pizza, sushi, Coke and Pepsi, pie and
ice cream, chocolate. There are bees.
He has no ticket. He’s told to step aside. He
looks up where the sky should be. He
watches a cat slide under the plastic
elephant. He looks back up. The sky
has gone. The earth has gone. His feet
are sore. His hands are turning into
birds. His hood is filling up with coins.
His beard is filled with bells.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Dogwood

Subsequently published in 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!

 

I Am Wearing Your Shirt

On Tuesday night, 17 of us gathered at Bryan Uecker’s Book Nook and Java Shop in Montague, Michigan. Go there. You will enter the world as it should be: fine food, fine drinks, music, fascinating art objects, books of course, and overstuffed chairs, calming lighting, and such welcoming warmth.

This is a gift from Bryan to all those who hope to find a place where the soul finds respite.

We gathered for a workshop in which I try to offer a variety of approaches to writing that explores one’s personal history, the history that matters, the history that one is seldom encouraged to discover. There is memory, the wellspring of much of our lives. As Joy Harjo has so quietly said, “Memory alive. That’s what we are.” And there is memory that becomes a record of our history, meaning those experiences and those people who have had an impact on who we are.

During our evening a troubling discussion arose about how, all but daily, 45 by his coarse and caustic language distracts these writers from what deeply matters to them. Two and a half hours later, we left feeling re-connected to our own worlds, regretting that we needed a workshop to have this happen, and with hope that we can attend to political events that matter and somehow keep 45 from tearing us away from what creates the personal meaning in our days.

I Am Wearing Your Shirt
an elegy for my father

When your words left
your hands, the only place
silence holds us to the earth
opened.  Somewhere a child
opened a door.  Somewhere
a mother looked out a window.

You lived in your hands—alive
in bread dough, along the handles
of tools, holding the endless
usefulness of rags.  “In all
things, a firm grip,” you told me,
and at the end, you wanted only
your hands.

The snow that comes in the mornings
brings each of your words.  The water
forms around your and, your either, not
and yes.  They land, they just land.
Sometimes they fall all day, and into
the next.  Sometimes they melt before noon.

You never waited.  In the Spring,
you forced the shoots, even
the blooms.  The trays waited
on the coffee table, the refrigerator,
the floor of the family room. We gave
one to anyone who stopped. They
were gone by May.

Yesterday, I found a photograph.  I’m
sitting on your shoulders.  Or is it you
sitting on your father’s shoulders?  Or
is it your grandfather sitting
on his beer wagon, holding
his team of tired horses?

At the funeral, you walked through the house
collecting your garden tools, cookbooks, and
sweatshirts while each visitor laid the bud
of a rose on your chest.  They formed a heart
within the heart of your arms and folded hands.
I imagine them opening in your ashes.

Every morning for fifty-one years, you
woke and began by whispering, “This
is the best part of the day,” and laid
your arm across her back.

I am wearing your shirt.  Now,
when I walk, I wear your hat.  In
the garden, I wear your gloves.

Here the land is flat.  You
lived in the clay hills,
always at an angle.

Growing up on Goat Shit Hill,
looking out over the sullen
open hearths, the tired smoke
of the mills, the smudged strip
of heartless coal, you took shot
after shot at the hoop your father
rammed into the ridge behind
your house, knowing any miss
could send you down a mile
after the disrespected ball.

The house is cold now, cold
as Spring turning itself
into bloom.  We wait at the window.

You always stepped aside
to let every question have its way.

Your God wanted no attention at all.

Yesterday, when I dug into our garden’s
matted earth, I felt your hand slide
into mine as if it were putting on
a glove.  We went together
into the awkward ground, turned the soil,
let it slip between our fingers.

Where have you walked
in a year?  The center
of snow. . .  The center of
each amen. . . of every
word we’ve tried to keep.
Now, on this still April afternoon,
one more year to the day you
came to stay within us, the trees’
negative space waits for leaves.

And wearing your shirt, I look out into
the wood, where the end of each branch
touches the air’s one silence.

How you loved this dust, this
light on the side of the house.

–Jack Ridl

First published in the New Poems from the Third Coast, Contemporary Michigan Poetry (Wayne State University Press)
Subsequently published in 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!

 

Again the Squirrels

Well, pardon me!

Nothing like having the president of the United States re-invent both the legal and social meaning of “I beg your pardon.”

45 has now given us the permission to offer a pardon to ourselves without concern of the needs of those offended. We can bump into someone and say, “I pardon me.” In conversation we can declare, “I pardon my interruption.” If we feel the need to insert a bit of humility, we can mutter, “I beg my own pardon.”

Sigh.

Squirrels don’t pardon themselves.

Again the Squirrels

The squirrels are hanging
from the feeder meant
for the morning
arrival of grosbeaks, finches,

chickadees, the assertive
jays. The feeder clangs
dangling,
and I try to sit
zazen, feel

the startled
beat
of my silly heart
wanting to slam
the door
sending
black tails, gray tails
sailing

from their clutch
of the ebony~oiled sunflower seeds.
“Only for the birds,” I chant. “Only
for the birds,” my mantra mocking
myself, my morning, my

monotonous hope
that the day will unfold into
something other
than its inevitable
chatter, its necessary way
of forcing us
to interrupt.

I will waitfor night,
for the moon’s light

draping across our eyes, for

a rainfall that mutes it all.

–Jack Ridl

First published in I-70 Review.

HEY!!! Mark your calendars for the Fifth Annual Red Dock Poetry Reading, where I’ll be joined by the great poet, Laura DonnellyTuesday, August 14, 6:30pm. Come early to enjoy dinner along the water.

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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 Man I Know

Last week’s post elicited some misunderstanding, for which I am responsible. Neither Josef nor I was suggesting anything like sympathy or understanding for 45. Anything but! I’ll let it go at that.

This week’s poem — our family is struggling with a complicated sorrow. Grief for most anyone is an ambush. We’re walking along, doing pretty well, go to the grocery and lose it in front of the watermelons.

What a strange world, the Kingdom of Sorrow. And yet it is that place where so many of us join hearts.

My hunch is that 45’s response to a person caught in grief would be to label that “loser.”

After a while that’s what we all are–losers. If we carry the gift of caring, then we grow into becoming losers of much of what and whom we love.

And we’ve lost so much to 45, this thief of our loving attention.

A Man I Know

A man I know walks down the road
behind his house. All year, he wears
a scarf and stocking cap. When he
nears our place, the dogs bark.

I know there is always grape jelly
on his shelf. He told me. And he also
told me at night he thinks about birds.
Sometimes he decides to stop by.

He says he wants to visit the dogs.
They like him. Sometimes he sits
with them at our window and draws.
He loves to draw apples. He also

enjoys the gray squirrel with tan ears
that scrounges in the back yard for
what the juncos, black-caps, and
sparrows drop from the feeder. He talks

a lot about when he was in third grade.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Scintilla
Subsequently published in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State U. 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!

Anyone by Josef Hien

The other day I had a magical time with two children in our family. Anna, five, was drawing. One of her several creations was an owl in a bathtub. Hayden, eight, asked me to write some poems with her, alternating lines, each line expanding the lives of cats or salamanders or baseball bats.

Later as the latest unsettling news of 45 infiltrated, I found myself wondering what he was like as a child. Was he once not terribly unlike Anna and Hayden? And if so, what altered his development from childlike to childish, cruelly so?

The very next day I received an email from the German singer/songwriter Josef Hien. He wrote about the impact on one’s memory of tyrants, dictators and their like. Among his many thoughtfully poignant reflections was this:

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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!

Reasons Enough

Way back in 1971, I began teaching in a small liberal arts college where I ended up staying for 37 years. Soon after arriving, I spent an hour or so with an influential member of the English department who told me, “They work for us” (meaning the administration). We do NOT work for them. Hold to that.”

I thought again about that the other night when I was wondering if the U.S. is still a democracy.  Doesn’t often seem so. A representative democracy is fragile. Its very existence depends on if “they are working for us.”

I like the idea of eliminating parties. No more “loyal Democrats.” No more “loyal Republicans.”

A little more than a week ago Michigan lost former State Senator Patty Birkholz. She always wore purple, nothing but purple. Purple when she walked into the legislature. Purple when she walked around town. When she went out to dinner, to a social gathering, to a friend’s house for a chat: Purple. Why? She firmly opposed partisan politics. Blue and red make purple.

Even the following reasons for 45’s policies could be paradoxically more thoughtful than the obfuscations he keeps tossing at us.

Reasons Enough

Because the shotgun was always in the attic

Because the afternoon sun shines through the window and settles on the pillows

And because the last of the summer sausage was stuck in the back of the fridge

That’s why. And—

The way the car starts like a bad joke

The way yesterday’s mail sits on the desk

The way the priest holds the host and carries the crucifix

Oh, and

Because of the Hopper print in the bedroom

Because of the maps of the Florida Keys in the glove compartment

Because of the burro’s tail drooping down across the open kitchen shelves

And the rosary beads on the mantle, the dog dish in the garage, the garden rake leaning against the side of the house

Also, when it rains at night, Sarah Vaughan, the radio

And the end of the driveway, that big rock with the hostas around it, and the light on the back porch

–Jack Ridl

 

First published in The Journal (Ohio State University Press)

Subsequently published in 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!

The World in May Is Leafing Out (again)

Around here we wait for Spring. We wait. And we wait. And it arrives — for a day. And back we go to waiting and waiting — and waiting. And then around the sixth week since the “Calendar’s First Day of Spring,” we see a few buds and some ferns begin to unfold, and a few pointed tips rise an inch or two above ground. A couple of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks show up at the feeders joining the Goldfinches, Chickadees, and the rest of the gang. And then one morning we ache our way out of bed and there it is — Spring — with its hushed landscape of blossoms.
Can we add this as a hopeful metaphor without spoiling its quiet arrival? Maybe not to the political landscape. Maybe for our battered inner landscape.

Here’s a repeat poem from this time last year…
The World in May Is Leafing Out 

It’s Matisse on a bicycle. It’s
a great blue heron coloring
outside the lines. The show’s
turned over to the aftermath
of buds. You can love
never thinking
this cliché could turn
to ice. Even nice
can be profound
as worry, even
the creek over the rotting log,
the pansy in the moss-covered
pot. The birds bulge
with song. Mary Cassat
throws open her windows.
Monet drags his pallet,
sits and waits for the paint
to spill across the patina
of his failing sight. Eric Satie
makes his joyous cling
and clang a counterpoint
to dazzle. The earth is rising
in shoots and sprays.
The sky’s as new as rain.
The stubborn doors swing open.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Listening Eye, Kent State University

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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!

Morning Again

The other day a friend told me each morning he goes out to fill the bird feeders. It’s nothing exceptional of course, but lately he has the feeling that what was once just another daily task has become a way of adding some goodness to the world, at least enough for the birds that come all day. He talked about how before “this time we’re trying to live within,” he never felt this way. He was simply putting out seed for the birds. But now, knowing there is little-to-nothing he can do about the coarse and crass language that smothers our consciousness, he feels perhaps this wordless language of attentive caring just might be a way to reunite us with our battered soulfulness and the givens that are good in the world.

Morning Again

This poem will not be
anything new, will slowly
make its way across
the page and down, a walk
from here to somewhere
later on, will take its place
quietly, I hope, with the leaves,
the dog asleep on the porch,
the way the garden keeps giving
us plants, the way the wind
is invisible, the way none of us
can ever know for sure.

–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!

Burying the Poems

Poet W.S. Merwin wrote, “On the last day of the world I would plant a tree.”

Why does that always astonish me? I don’t know.

April 22 was Earth Day. But every day is Earth Day. Don’t you wish that everyone
would have their heart seared by the realization that the Earth is helpless?

Someone strips a forest, wants to mine a wonder of a wilderness and we can only say, “No.” They don’t listen. And the tree next to the tree being dropped can’t fight to prevent the clear cut, only stand there in line, next. And the wilderness can’t defend itself, can’t even build a wall to keep out the ones who have no value for the ineffable, the wondrous, the soulful, that which profoundly nourishes each of us, the helplessly real.

And we need bees. Years ago a neighbor treated me as worse-than-worthless
for planting flowers. “What the hell are you doing, wasting time with flowers!?!”

He grew only vegetables, so many that he threw more than half away. Today he
would have a hard time bringing about a row of zucchini. I never
replied to his criticism. It was useless: I was a wuss of an “aesthete.” Had I
suggested the need and health of bees, he would have sneered, “Bees schmees.

Wherever he now is, I hope he has learned that we need bees, that they too
are helpless, defenseless, that they too can’t put up a fight.

Each day is THE EARTH’S DAY. We visit.

Burying the Poems

The night is still, the leaves calm
as a corpse when the words tell me,
“Be like the poet Alexander Kutzenov.

Bury your poems.” He sealed them
in glass jars like the finest currant jam,
laid them down into the earth and covered

their graves with leaves. I will do the same.
Slender light from the crawl of worms
will slide through the glass, lie between

the lines, along language’s slow syntax.
The dreaming earth with its lost souls
of slug and beetle, ephemeral scat of cat

and dog, drifting scent of nosing possum,
raccoon, and deer will mulch the poems’
quiet stay, the rhythms alkaline, the meanings

dormant in their disfigured corms. Moles
will come, nuzzle each jar. Voles will spin
like dervishes around the lids. Winter will

bring the hard frost tightening the ground.
Then following the breakage of spring and
the blisters of summer, the fall will raise

no harvest. Nothing there. Nothing to be there.
Only the jars under the lost dark green of leaves.

—Jack Ridl

A remarkable collection of poems that embodies
these ideas is Earth Again by Christopher Dombrowski
(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!

Grandfather

This week at a workshop on writing about one’s own personal history, which I was invited to lead at our UCC church, more than 50 people came. When Pastor Sal and I discussed having this workshop, we figured maybe a dozen or so would attend. 100 showed interest, but because of the size of the room, we had to limit participants to 50.

Sal and I discussed — why such interest in a class about exploring our histories? We think it’s because good souls are hungry for any opportunity to attend to what matters deeply to them, the events and people in their days. This discouraging time we are each absorbing has hijacked our consciousness, has lethally distracted us from the lives we deserve to live within. The three hours we spent together gave everyone an opportunity to care about what they actually do care about. And to be with like-hearted souls.

Here’s an excerpt from a message that arrived this week that links to this idea.

Dear Mister Ridl,
Normally I’m a reader, who doesn’t write to the authors I read, and also I’m not used to writing in English. But like many of the other new German readers you have, I feel so touched and so thankful for reading your poems and knowing about you in your house that I really want to thank you for that. Your poems and thoughts are graceful and gentle and they can comfort and foster. I need that so much – in everyday life, for I’m a primary school teacher and I need to be gentle with the children — but also in this present world, being so cruel and chaotic, for I’m a mother and want my children to grow up with hope and optimism. I always stand up very early, open the window and feel and smell the air and listen to the birds. Now, every Thursday I will also look for your poems. 

Greetings from Munich,

Natascha Guyton

 

Grandfather

He will come back–

in some small movement

of the line you draw, a word

you never said before,

a laugh, a sudden look.

You will be walking and the wind

will linger on your face. You’ll

know. His voice will drop

in rain, the snow. You’ll feel

his hand along the wood, in clay.

He’ll take his quiet presence

in your blood, your bones and cells.

He’ll stay.

for John Saurer

-Jack Ridl

First published in Yankee Magazine

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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!