Let Comfort Come

“Sticks and stones may break our bones.” Bones can heal. Words can too,  and they also cause lasting harm.

 

Let Comfort Come

Form is the quiet. We read
while form stays still
and waits. The words sing

or speak, clammer on or say
or tell or even sometimes step
aside and hope we wander in.

Everywhere within the form
of letter, word, space, structure
rests the hush around the hurry,

the opening wherein any form —
table, door, the lover’s arm and
tongue, the cat asleep on the sill—

lies the quiet, the shawl around
us all who have to clatter
through. Let it be the nothing of not.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Colorado Review

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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!

 

Meditation on a Photograph of a Man Jumping a Huge Puddle in the Rain

As we head into what’s called the new year, for many of us it will mean more intense and unwarranted distraction from what we deserve to have matter to us. I’m thinking of what it could mean to jump a puddle.

Meditation on a Photograph of a Man Jumping a Huge Puddle in the Rain

The time: then. The spirit: always.
And the rain: now. Sometimes

the day will leave
something behind—what ?—
something

between our toes
or under our last words at night.

We might say, “Let’s go ahead,”
and we do. We leap. And the eyes
watching from

the corners and doorways
go on to what stays the same.

For now, we
are different. You
and I. And the rain

and time and the spinning
world.

–Jack Ridl

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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!

Practicing Chinese Ink Drawing

Sometimes when it seems bleak out there, it can be helpful to see what black branches can bring. This week’s poem, below, arrived out from that seeing.

For a fine example of what three black ink lines accompanied by three written lines can do, I encourage you to look for Even Now, a collection by artist Jill Sabella and poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. The book is from Lithic Press, whose purpose is to publish “fine books for an old planet.”

Rosemerry will be giving a reading here in Saugatuck/Douglas, Michigan, at Roan & Black Gallery on June 23, 7pm, where you can right now find and purchase the lovely book/gift while their supplies last.

Practicing Chinese Ink Drawing

Outside this window
the trees
are black-branched,
covered
by an overnight
fall of snow.
Everything is still,
no wind,
no wind on its way,
and the sky—deep
blue, vague
behind a gray
scrim, mimics
the stillness
of this snow
while
my brush strokes
carry the feel
of listless
luck–languid
and precise
as the single file
tracks the trio
of toms trailed
this morning
into the woods
whose branches
and snow
and light
cannot be drawn.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Georgia Review

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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!

It’s a Question of Prayer

Some 40 years ago at a college reading I said that there is another way to read W. H. Auden’s infamous quote “Poetry makes nothing happen.” And that is that poetry, like most everything we create, takes what is nothing (not a thing) and makes it into something that happens, primarily in the human heart. I was told after that reading by several faculty members that I was, well, wrong and that I had twisted things “quite a bit.”

And I’ve stood corrected ever since. Then this week the bright light of a poet, Laura Donnelly, emailed an essay that suggests that Auden did in fact mean that poetry takes the “silence” that surrounds us, mixes it with language and does make something truly happen.

Needless to say, I am heartened by that. And I’m gonna expand that idea to apply to most all we do. At this precarious time, we need to hold fast to the fact that each of us can make “nothing” happen.

Think about it: you take a bunch of ingredients and put ’em together and out comes holiday pastries. You are with another, and out of that quiet you create a conversation that would not be there without you. I admit to being startled by the responsibility that comes with “making nothing happen.” With that, here’s this Thursday’s poem with the hope that it can enter your concerned heart and find a comforting place there.

It’s a Question of Prayer

Monks know we can be one

with what has no
words, no name, not even a murmur.

There we meet the modesty
of presence: It could be green,

slow, tattered, cold, alone
as a possum

crossing a backroad.
It’s the touch

of the still. Prayer
is a place where we are

always
allowed in.

We are Amen, Shalom, Namaste.

Our where, there, here,
our forgotten habitat of yes.

We become sigh, our “I”
the wisteria vine in the rain,

the wet dog,
the house sparrow

nesting in the stillness of brown.

–Jack Ridl

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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

“The [person] who refuses sentiment refuses the full spectrum of human behavior, and then just dries up. … I would rather give full vent to all human loves and disappointments, and take a chance on being corny, than die a smartass.” — Jim Harrison

 

A Christmas List for Santa

A Wednesday afternoon with no thoughts of Thursday

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

My father

Cups of tea, plates for 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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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!

Chamber Musicians Also Wash the Dishes, Check the Mail

The mystery of music. This time of year it surrounds us. But then again it can always surround us. Let’s let it.

 

Chamber Musicians also Wash the Dishes, Check the Mail

But now the chamber musicians are
just past halfway in Glazunov’s Elegy,

the part where in rehearsal they stopped.
“It feels as if I’m behind.” “I don’t think

so. I think I’m ahead.” When I listened
all I heard was a whole note held

in the third movement of a symphony
by Tinnitus, all I felt was the wax waning

onto the timpani of my ear drum.
Next comes another elegy, this by Suk,

Suk who was fifteen when he wrote its
sorrow-filled walk through what he did

not yet know. The chamber musicians
know. They carry elegy in their fingers.

They open the world on the other side
of every note and let us breathe

within the haunting space between each
touch of key and pull of bow. They believe

heaven is between the stars, music
in the empty sleeve of the one-armed man.

–Jack Ridl

 

 

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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 Materialism of Angels

During this season, I hope these angels bring you comfort and joy. That’s their job!

Here’s some joy in our household.  I learned yesterday that that the first poem I sent you, “While the Dog Sleeps,” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Louisville Review.  So good of them to do that. And so we’ll go through the winter with our fingers crossed…

The Materialism of Angels

“Who would say that pleasure is not useful?”—Charles Eames

Of course the angels dance. If not
on the head of a pin, then maybe
on the boardwalk along the ocean of stars.
And they eat hot and spicy: salsa,
tabasco, red peppers. They love
mangoes. They can munch
for hours on cashews. Olives
sit in bronze bowls on the cherry
tables next to their canopy beds
where the solace of pillows swallows
their sweet heads and the quiet
of silk lies across their happy backs.
They know the altruism of material things.
They want to say to us, “We’ll sleep
next to you. Feel our soft and unimposing
flutter across your shoulders, on your
heartbroken feet.” They want us
to take, eat, to smell the wood,
run our tired fingers over the rim of
every glass, give our eyes the chance
to see the way the metal bends and
curves its way into the black oval
of the chair. They want us to feel
the holiness of scratching where it
itches, rubbing where it hurts. They
want us to take long, steamy showers
and a nap. They know how easily
we follow directions: hook the red wire
to the front of the furnace, fill in only
the top half of the life insurance form.
They have no manuals for joy.
They can’t fix anything we break.
They wonder why we never laugh
enough, why we don’t know God
is crazy for deep massage, and loves
to wail on an alto sax whenever they dance.

–Jack Ridl

from Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

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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!

 😇

When a Quiet Comes

My thanks for each of you pilgrims on
this Thanksgiving Day and in every day.

 

When a Quiet Comes

Sometimes when the morning surrounds 7am,
a quiet comes. A neighbor wakes, lets out
the dog, fills the songbird feeder. Often

a jogger goes by. Mostly there is the quiet.
There is a pot of coffee. Here in this house
there is a cat who seems to take the day’s

oncoming disappointments and hold them
in her purr. The mind almost shuts down.
The garden’s tapestry of buds and blooms

waits for not a thing. There is this quiet,
this way the day has of being where
we belong. At precisely 7:45 the bells

of St. Peter’s will send an old hymn into
the quiet and we who are still pilgrims
will soon walk our way into another day.

–Jack Ridl

The Louisville Review, 2015

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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!

In Time: While the Dog Sleeps

Friends! Some whacked-out sociologist has written that we make no more than four or five friends in our lives. How did I get so lucky? He needs to meet each of you.

I don’t need to proclaim anything more about what has happened to us. Here’s what I want to do, and do with some self-consciousness: send a poem each week.

W. H. Auden announced that poetry makes nothing happen. I have fought that notion all my life. If I don’t believe that what I’ve given my days to can matter a tiny bit for even a moment to one human heart, then at this age, I’d be looking back at one humungous waste of time. I don’t believe I have wasted my time.

So each Thursday for the next four years, I’m going post a poem of mine (that’s where the self-consciousness enters) on my blog, as a kind of protest against the anti-soul perched atop the once free world. Please don’t worry about responding to it. If the poem can be a friend for you for a bit, that’s plenty. And feel free to “pay it forward” if you know of someone who would benefit from this.

I suppose I want to do this because I am nagged by a need to do something. I hope this will be my little protest on behalf of lovingkindness, for what is good. And all the more these days I want to feel connected to all of you during a time that has darkened the days in multiple ways.

I doubt many of us want to be uplifted. Being uplifted can feel all wrong when so many are suffering. I do think many of us want to feel respected, honored, affirmed, comforted. I hope this little project will help to fill that need.

So to see the poem each week, you can click on the Subscribe link at the top of the page, enter your email, and you’re good to go. Or just visit here on Thursdays. Of course, we’ll never use this email list for anything but sending you content from the blog.

Namaste, Shalom, Amen, Whatever. Here’s the first poem:

 

While the Dog Sleeps

November the first: Cold.
The last gangs of geese flying
through the gray of the day.
It’s the birthday of Stephen Crane.
On this date, Michelangelo said yes
to the Pope and gathered his brushes.
At the church next door, the choir
is rehearsing. There is nothing
I want to rehearse. Recently I’ve
been realizing, “If that didn’t exist, I
would never miss it.” I say it a lot.
But not about you. We put isinglass
over the screens on the porch so we
could sit there in sweaters, take the time
to see what was in front of us. Now
“tomorrow” is a strange word, “now”
even stranger. “Yesterday” makes sense
but not much of it is true. Our dog still
keeps sleep. I imagine him dreaming
La dolce far niente. When asked
if I miss what I did for forty years
I like to say, “That never existed.”
Now here on the porch I take in the light
crossing the last leaves doing their slow
dance in the breeze, watch the chickadees
at the feeder, once in a while glance at
the sundial we set in the shade of the redbud.

–Jack Ridl

Published in  The Louisville Review, October 2015

 

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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!

Being With, Now

I am writing here to my students. But even if you and I have never shared a workshop, class, time together with poetry, you are welcome to read it as well:

Dear students, you who created my life,

Thank you.

As I have been making my way through the aftermath of the election, I realized again what we created together and what I, and maybe some of you, understandably took for granted — not blithely — but because we created a world where we delighted in our differences.

I had one “social rule” — prevent in any way a fellow student’s ability to be authentic in vision and voice, even with so much as an eye roll, and I will ask you to leave the class and not return. You all welcomed that “regulation,” that way of making our little place safe for everyone to, well, to be.

And now each of you will spend your days with a “Leader of the Free World” whose cruelty would laugh at our care for one another. You took us beyond tolerance, beyond the condescension of acceptance. You never thought about anything but the richness of being with those who were not like you. And our souls opened and welcomed, celebrated and danced, felt the unity of grief and the unifying joy of seeing the world through the hearts of those we were with.

Yes, with.

As daughter Mimi taught us, “with” is the most important word in the world. We are always “with.” Cruelty destroys every way of being with. It may now take its place in the land’s highest office.

But in our memories of being with one another, and in each day ahead, we will still be with, we will always be with, with one another and with all those who, on Wednesday morning, woke in fear, shame, humiliation, grief, despair, and rabid uncertainty. And woke, too, with the understanding that lovingkindness can be overruled and out-voted.

But it can never be overcome. Thank you.

Tonight I know more overwhelmingly than ever before what you created. And I know also that you have since then, every day, created places where those you are with are able to be who they truly are.

As I sat down to write to you, in came this message. Yes, this message came just as I was walking to the computer! From one of my friends, a student long ago:

Hi Jack,

I hope you are well.  Thinking of you today and grateful that on days like today when I can’t make sense of my world, I can turn to poetry to at least look at it from another lens.

The Peace of Wild Things

 When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.      

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 –Wendell Berry

Love to you,

Carrie Mitchell