Over in That Corner, the Puppets

I’ve talked with many who are experiencing a sense that their days of small and gentle moments have been sabotaged.

Below is a poem that arrived out from those conversations.

And here are two books that might be a comfort and support:

Poetry of Presence edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai & Ruby R. Wilson (Grayson Books). This anthology leads you into a beautiful connection with what matters in your every day.

Braided Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. A member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer in lyrical prose leads us to realize that when we listen to the languages of the earth we come to understand its generosity.

 

Over in That Corner, the Puppets

–for Naomi Shihab Nye

Even when the weather changes,
remember to pet the dog, make
the cat purr, watch whatever

comes to the window. If you
stand there long enough,
someone will come by,

a stranger perhaps, one who
could be more, but needs
to keep walking. Hello

is likely all you can say.

–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!

 

Whoops.

Unfortunately there was a smooshing together of two different subjects in the latest post. I did not mean to have the care/not care comment and the thank you to those who checked in on us be together. We of course know that millions of people we’re caring in many many ways, and that friends were caring who were concerned about taking our attention. The reference to “not caring” was meant to refer to those who were exploiting the disaster. Having friends who are dealing with the storm we too keep trying to figure out whether or not to contact them or trust they know we care.I regret that I didn’t check that copy to catch that misleading construction. And I called myself an English teacher!

Listening to Baseball on the Back of the Boat

The hurricanes. Now devastation comes in threes. Julie has spent her days trying to help our Key West friends both on and off the island stay in touch, find who and what they needed to make it through, ease their hearts.

We are ever grateful to those of you who checked on us. Your caring sustained our shocked hearts as we waited with only thoughts of the worst — as did everyone.  Thank you.

As of today no one is allowed back on the island for probably 7-10 days. There is the overwhelming need to tend to roads, bridges, provide clean water, deal with sewage, restore power, bring in gasoline, medical supplies, food, assess damages. The teams on the ground are making amazing progress. But it’s hard to wait to return.

And of course at this time, most everyone is thinking about how it could have been worse and how many millions are worse off than those of us who are getting up this morning to another day with food, shelter, pets, friends.

Here’s a poem I composed to somehow fit with the disaster–

Listening to Baseball on the Back of the Boat

The Pirates are up 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth.
An hour ago, I watched a rehabbed houseboat
being towed across the bight and into its slip,

the owners Pittsburghers who wandered down
into the sun and humidity of Key West. The water’s
dappled oblongs of light ripple laconically and

the sky is all but gull-less. Tonight the saved
boat’s owners will couple again—perhaps—
the same sun setting its lower light through

their new windows. Now it’s the seventh inning.
I don’t know why I’m listening. Maybe I am
twelve. Maybe they are seventeen again finding

themselves in an old new boat, surprised
that saving it has maybe saved a twitch of
them even though this was never in the plans.

A Dodger just homered with two on
making it 3-2. I look back across the water,
watch four cormorants dive, surface, dive.

–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!

My Brother — A Star

“The Necessary Angel” is what Wallace Stevens called the imagination. Which begs the question, when is an angel not necessary? We need them all right now.

The following poem seeks to embody what he meant. When poet/fiction writer/brother Gary Gildner read the poem he said, “This is when the sensibility of a poet arrived for you.”

My Brother—A Star

My mother was pregnant through the first
nine games of the season.  We were 7 -2.
I waited for a brother.  My father
kept to the hard schedule.  Waking
the morning of the tenth game, I thought
of skipping school and shooting hoops.
My cornflakes were ready, soggy.  There
was a note:  “The baby may come today.
Get your haircut.”  We were into January,
and the long December snow had turned
to slush.  The wind was mean.  My father
was gone.  I looked in on my mother still
asleep and hoped she’d be OK.
I watched her, dreamed her dream:  John
at forward, me at guard.  He’d
learn fast.  At noon, my father
picked me up at the playground.  My team
was ahead by six.
We drove toward the gym.
“Mom’s OK,” he said and tapped his fist
against my leg.  The Plymouth ship that rode
the hood pulled us down the street.
“The baby died,” he said.  I felt my feet press hard
against the floorboard.  I put my elbow on the door handle,
my head on my hand, and watched the town:
Kenner’s Five and Ten, Walker’s Hardware,
Jarret’s Bakery, Shaffer’s Barber Shop, the bank.
Dick Green and Carl Stacey waved.  “It was
a boy.”
We drove back to school.  “You gonna
coach tonight?”  “Yes.”  “Mom’s OK?”
“Yes.  She’s fine.  Sad.  But fine.  She said
for you to grab a sandwich after school.  I’ll see you
at the game.  Don’t forget about your hair.”  I
got out, walked in late to class.
“We’re doing geography,” Mrs. Wilson said.  “Page
ninety-seven.  The prairie.”
That night in bed
I watched this kid firing in jump shots
from everywhere on the court.  He’d cut left,
I’d feed him a fine pass, he’d hit.
I’d dribble down the side, spot him in the corner, thread
the ball through a crowd to his soft hands, and he’d
loft a star up into the lights where it would pause
then gently drop, fall through the cheers and through the net.
The game never ended.  I fell into sleep.  My hair
was short.  We were 8 and 2.

-for my mother and my father

–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!

After Hearing the Professor Say, “She’s Just an Average Student.”

School has begun–again.

It won’t be long until the words “average student” will be applied to many a student, whether that student loves to learn or could care less. Is there any way to banish this misapplied word? What really does it mean? Was Buddha an average Buddha? Jesus an average Christ? Let’s help Nancy be Nancy and help Carl be Carl.

As Dr. George Bleasby, my beloved novels prof, would instruct us: “Love the stuff.”
In my college there is–or was–a three-by-five card for each of its English major graduates. Mine read, “Among the finest writer/reflectors we’ve had, and by far the worst objective test taker we’ve ever seen.”   That’s A and an F, which averages to C, which means average.
I don’t know what that means. But I know plenty who do.
The title of the following poem is something that will be muttered in schools all year long. Sigh.

I know I offered it before. Well, here it is again–

After Hearing the Professor Say, “She’s Just an Average Student.”

How great never to be that bully
excellent. Not even the bland
and shy acolyte good. Average,
simply average like all the robins,

jays, junkos, chickadees. Even
wood ducks, those charmingly
helmeted harlequins who never
arrive without floating a surprise

over any creek or pond, are average
when it comes to wood ducks.
Elephants unless they rival the heft
and height of Jumbo are, well, average

elephants. Experts, of course, determine
what is above average, whether elephant
or student, while trillium, sweet woodruff,
owls, moles, golden rod, and thyme hold

to the way they became. They cannot rise
to the rigor of demand or slough off into
a lower caste. Those who know say
wedding veil is indeed an excellent vine,

argue its worth over, say, honeysuckle.
But wedding veil is always wedding veil.
Wisteria is wisteria just as, let’s say kudzu
is kudzu, the former cascading its blossoms

down and through a pergola, the latter climbing
and twisting its way around a tree’s trunk
and on into its branches. So, for all I know,
I am an average coffee drinker spending

an average early morning watching
an average squirrel searching for
average acorns in our average yard,
readying for yet another average winter.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Chariton Review

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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!

To Live with the Benedictines

After the incomprehensible insensitivity of this past week, I have been thinking with deep gratitude about Guy Martin, the remarkable man I worked for at Colgate University. Guy was a theologian, philosopher, man of depth carried gently. His presence was one of inexhaustible thoughtfulness.

Guy was infinitely patient with this anxiety ridden kid trying to come through on his first work after college.  One day I asked Guy what he as a kid told people when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He thought for a bit — he always thought for a bit before responding to any question or comment — then said, “I remember now that I always said that I wanted to be kind.”

To Live with the Benedictines

I would love to live within the Benedictine
vow of hospitality, letting it fill the day–
from matins bringing the sun out of

the night until I kneel by the straw
pillow waiting for my happy head.
To never have to try to feel at home,

to wander into prayer, the words turning
into leaves, salt air, nothing at all, the world
being what a cello says it can be. Anything

on the tongue would be the host—chunk
of dark chocolate, an apple, breadstick,
sprig of mint. The days, never enough,

would simply be light and dark moving in
and out of one another, a redeemed yin to
yang, an endless alchemy of hours, cowls

over the shaved heads of the monks.
To love without distinctions: Why this?
Why that? There is a window. And there

is a crocus blooming in the snow. There is
a book open to page 73. And there, asleep,
an old dog, snoring his own Gregorian chant.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Poetry East, 2006

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings 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!

Epilogue

Perhaps it’s the term ‘post-modern.” I don’t understand “post-modern.” I don’t understand “modern.”

I know some people who had an argument over when modernism began. It all but destroyed their friendship. When disagreements like that break out, I feel like offering an adaptation of a Mel Brooks response: Uh, you go on arguing, “I gotta wash up.”

Epilogue. Maybe we’re inhabiting an epilogue. I like that. Epilogues tend to have a sense of addition or addendum to a story and are often a gentle settling of things.

Yeah. I don’t want to dwell with you in a “Post-T Word” world. Let’s head toward an epilogue.

Epilogue

I’m working a Sudoku puzzle, one cat
in my lap and Mozart on the radio. I
didn’t catch what work, but I don’t know

much about classical music. I like it,
most of it, have it on all day, a companion
as I wander from room to room within
a life that may or may not matter. I
also don’t know much about cats. We
have two. They act as if they can’t believe
the other should be in the house. They hiss,
growl, swat at one another. The old dog
sleeps. The young dog stands between them.
It’s a cold day, patches of snow and ice.
There are birds at the feeders. There is
a clear sky, and the creek behind the house
drifts along as does the next piece on the radio,
something by Edward Elgar or maybe it’s
Vaughn Williams. This puzzle is impossible.–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville Review

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings 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!

What To Do Instead

Al Murtz was a folk artist… more of an outsider artist… no, more a guy who liked to paint on things.

My good pal Max Milo introduced me to Al. We visited him in Baldwin, MI, where his house was surrounded by every object imaginable, each painted by Al. Never a canvas. Always an object.

One time,  Doctor Scholl’s truck tipped and out spilled thousands of insoles. Al had them gathered up and dropped off at his place where he painted each one.

Hundreds of bright yellow railroad spikes with red-painted smiley faces on top greeted you in front of the house.

When a leak appeared in the roof, Al put an upturned rowboat over the spot, the boat painted all imaginable colors. In the back he had placed upright a set of bed springs, each painted, monoliths to something.

We asked Al’s wife why he did this every day, all day. She shook her head and said, “He likes to paint.”

What To Do Instead
Out here, the paint stays
between my fingers–a boat,
a long afternoon, this wide
and generous landscape.
I like the smells: grass, yellow,
the insides of old hats, rain,

the rot of logs and leaves.
I wonder about church.
I’d like to paint the pews.

I like every afternoon, how
the morning empties and opens
and birds and light come into it,

how the color moves north or
veers into my neighbor’s yard.
And I like where my hand goes

when the brush takes it across
a board or broken dinnerware,
a light bulb, shoes, baseballs,

those dinner trays there beside
the bicycles, or these stumps.
When I’m out here, it’s quiet

and the wind moves across my hands.

–Jack Ridl

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings 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!

 

Instead of Vacationing in Maine

Times such as these often leave one wondering about alternatives. How can we do anything other than be chronically absorbed by the disrespect for the office of the presidency and the course language and cruel disregard of those who so need the government to be “for the people”?

I think back to the time when our daughter, maybe seven or eight said, “I think a lot depends on where you put your but.” We, of course heard “butt” and burying our surprise, asked what she meant.

“I mean that you could say, ‘I wanted to go to the beach, but it’s raining.’ Or you could say, ‘It’s raining, but I can stay here and read on the porch.’ ”

I’m not suggesting that we abdicate paying attention to the miasma we’re in, but maybe it would help if we thought about where to put both our “butts” and our “buts.”

I hope I get to see you, and you get to see Tom Lynch at The Red Dock, 6pm, August 8. Books for sale at the reading.

Instead of Vacationing in Maine

Here on our screened in porch the hot August light falls
like a shawl over the dogs, each asleep in his bed,
the old one stretched out in his long white coat,

the pup curled into a pile of pillows, one ear flopped
over his forehead. The FM station sends “The Wasps”
into the humid afternoon. Williams composed it at nineteen.

At nineteen I was lost. Cicadas stutter in the branches bending
over the stream drying now to a meandering line of cold
spring water that rises from the bottom of Kelly Lake

then twists for three miles before losing its trail into
the maw of Lake Michigan. Deer come, drink, then
move closer, this year close enough to gnaw

the leaves from the mass of hostas surrounding
the house. One kingfisher cackles back and forth
from branch to branch pausing to peer down

for minnows, crayfish, and tadpoles. The gardens held
through July’s dragging lack of rain. We helped,
sprinkling the pots with a watering can we found years ago,

its paint peeling and leaving a patina that bends
into the quieting hues of the scramble of color:
wine-red begonias, pale pink and purple phlox,

a collage of coleus, the pastels of daisy, gazania,
the stunning burgundy of bergamot—seducer
of hummingbird and yellow jacket. Dragonflies pose

on the lilies’ leaves, the day-mortal blooms leaning into
the sunlight as if to invite the swallowtails and monarchs.
All here, all soon leaving with the soft, dark closing of the day.

–Jack Ridl
from Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings 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 Night, I Think

Tuesday night Julie and I watched Paterson. When it ended I said to Julie that I was so struck that I really didn’t know what to say to her. She said, “I understand.” It’s sure rare, isn’t it, when someone “gets you”?

The poems in the film are by Ron Padgett. He’s been a friend I’ve never met. There’s a conversation between him and the director Jim Jarmusch. Padgett says to him something like “I knew you were trying for the big bucks when you told me that you were going to make a film about poetry.”

I hope I get to see you at The Red Dock, 6pm, August 8.

https://ridl.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/fourth-annual-reading-at-the-red-dock/

Last Night, I Think

During the storm,
I wondered
about gathering
all the drops.
From there it
took off into all
this other stuff: light
on the underside
of leaves, what
rust peels away,
the space between
musical notes. I forgot
what time it was; I
wrote that down.
When I was a kid
I loved plus signs
and hummingbirds
in the honeysuckle.
I have jars filled
with words my
father left behind.

–Jack Ridl

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Visit Roan & Black 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!