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.

A remarkable collection of poems that embodies
these ideas is Earth Again by Christopher Dombrowski
(Wayne State University Press)

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!

 

Likely

The other day, the following appeared on the comments page from Meike Trenkel in Germany:

“I was touched very deeply by the SZ article and your work. I was born and grew up in the GDR (East Germany) and I know the feeling of life under a dictatorship very well. It damages everything…

“And the dark horrible shadows of the Nazi regime — they are still here. So we must stand together, support and help each other in love. Thank you very much, and sunny spring wishes from Germany. –Meike.”

Likely

Most days come
along like a child
kicking a stone
down an alley
or like the way
the mail lies
in the mailbox,
flag up.  But
sometimes as
you wander into
some old words,
you feel yourself
gliding on the morning,
maybe looking back
over your shoulder.

–Jack Ridl

Will be published in Saint Peter and the GoldfinchWayne State University Press, 2019

NOTE: An English translation of the article from SZ  (Sueddeutsche Zeitung ) noted above is on its way!

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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!

It’s April and It Should Be Spring

Welcome, welcome to all of my new German friends! This week has been overwhelming for me. Among the many joys of doing something that is for no gain is when the unexpected might, just might, come your way and becomes a gift you couldn’t imagine arriving.

This blog protest has created that experience. The gifts have come from you. You have created a world for me, one I realize is extraordinarily rare. My gratitude cannot be fully expressed. So today I want to offer two ways of thanking you. And when you read this, I want you to believe that I do feel that I am writing this post to one of you at a time. That’s very important to me.

These last few days have been overwhelming. Christian Zaschke’s article in the weekend edition of Sueddeutsche Zeitung about what I’m trying to do here reached far and wide. Some 200 new subscribers (Welcome!) from some 4,000 new visitors, primarily German speaking people from all over the world, Christian’s SZ fans from everywhere, arrived at at ridl.com, making that more than 27,000 people who have come to visit since I started this work, many to comment and/or email me. It’s become joyous new work to respond to each who have personally contacted me. It’s like having you all here, all around the kitchen table, and all attending to what matters to you.

This message from Albert Geiger is one of the many.  I think you will be as moved by it as I am, for all it implies for all of us:

“I am from Munich (Germany) and read yesterday the article about your activities in the SZ newspaper. Meanwhile I had the opportunity to visit your website and to enjoy some of your poems. The article and your poems touched me very much, resulting in a strong feeling of solidarity which drove me to write you these few sentences.

The article and your work reminded me vividly of my father who was one of the appr. 230,000 German resistance during the III Reich and who survived almost 11 years of imprisonment only because of literature and tender poems which gave him incredible strength. He even was able to write his own poems.

So I feel that your work is also extremely important for me, and I want to thank you for it.”

And here in an email response is the writer, Christian Zaschke:

“… if I may quickly throw a word into this group: this e-mail by Mr Geiger is extremely moving for me (I wrote the story). And if I may add: reactions in Germany to the text have been so kind, so gentle, so wonderful. I am overwhelmed (even though the readers all love Jack now and not the messenger – rightly so :-).

And it confirms what we all know: people have to engage. And to speak out. We can all reach out and touch the world.

I am so grateful for the time I have spent in Saugatuck and Douglas.”

My abundant thanks to my friend, Norbert Kraas, who contacted Christian about this project. This would not have happened had Norbert not been so kind as to do that. That’s Norbert — kind.

It’s snowing here and the wind is harsh. And it’s Spring. Yes, within this storm, there is Spring.

It’s April and It Should Be Spring

The gods are tired of tending fires.
Against the window, snow.

Each night the hour hand moves
time and us closer to the light.

No one wants to go out. No one
wants to stay in. And the snow.

Robins do their silly walk across the lawn,
dead grass dangling from their beaks.

Crocuses raise their purple risk
through the ice-crusted mulch of maple,

oak, beech, and willow. They last
a day. Clumps of daffodils stay

blossom-tight. We want to put away
sweaters. What would the saints do?

We haul in more wood. It is snowing.
Thursday and it is snowing and wind cold.

Winter’s wedged itself into a crack
along the equinox. We know, in time,

the trees will bud, the flowers rise
and bloom. We do what the earth does.

–Jack Ridl

And today? This is today. Here is hope.

First published in Temenos

Published later in an alternative form in Poetry East

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!

Here’s Hoping You Read as Well as He Writes

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 8.02.23 AMhttp://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/trump-kritiker-jack-ridl-the-number-of-the-beast-1.3926572

Behind this link is the lovely piece Christian Zaschke wrote about Jack’s “In Time” series, his act of resistance. We are heartbroken that we cannot read it in German, because after spending a few days with Christian (after a few minutes, we knew), we realized that this writer loves his words, uses them carefully, builds and sculpts his stories. What an honor to have met him, and how kind he was to put so much effort into casting his light on this project.

Dear new readers, here are all of Jack’s Thursday posts, resisting the administration of 45, under the tag “In Time.”  https://ridl.wordpress.com/category/in-time/

So many thanks to Norbert Kraas for introducing us!

 

 

 

Aubade for this Particular Morning

Appalling “idea” of the week: Rick Sanitarium saying that instead of wasting money on gun legislation, the money should be used to teach students CPR. What the hell does one say in response to that????

We don’t say, we do. On Saturday more than 500 of us marched behind brave and brilliant high school students in our twin towns whose population is just about 2,000 (many of us in warmer places this time of year).

Our posts (I say our posts because they are ours — I sit down each week and feel you one and all out there — I write TO you.) will be a feature story this weekend in Germany’s leading international newspaper, Süeddeutsche Zeitung. A couple of weeks ago, the New York correspondent for the paper, Christian Zaschke, spent four days with Julie and me, and with our friends, in order to write the story of these posts. It was a joy being with him as he experienced for the first time — the Midwest.

Before moving to New York, Christian was centered in Ireland during “The Troubles” and then for six years in London where he covered Brexit and wrote a best-selling book about it all. In addition to other best-selling non-fiction books, he has published collections of his columns and weekly stories. And he would be embarrassed by my saying this: people buy the weekend edition in order to read his articles.

When asked what Germans think of 45, he said, “90% can’t stomach him, and 90% think the U.S. has gone mad.” However, he did discover that while many of us feel we are, in fact, being driven mad, we are ably sustaining ourselves, working tirelessly for what’s right and what needs to be made right, and who should be in office come November. We are, and we are trying to find daily balance while we do.

Let’s do some deep breathing. And feel Spring trying to get here.

Aubade for this Particular Morning

The night was filled with rain,
lightning announcing our luck,
thunder rumbling its afterthought.

The dogs woke and quietly
came to the side of the bed.
The cat curled down between us.

Now in the damp of morning,
the leaves hold the early light
within each drop, the sun

rising into the sky’s still
depth of cloud, across
the gray scrim of the day.

It is quiet, not silent–quiet
as the sparrows, finches,
and warblers singing through

the dripping branches,
their notes a not quite startling
welcome as we open the windows,

brew the coffee, let our breath
return to its steady wander.
My mother began her mornings

saying, “Time for this day.”
Today the lingering
of an old rain. The chill

of 6AM. The musty smell
of books, blankets, and pillows
on the day bed on the porch.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Mid-American Review and subsequently published in Broken Symmetry, Wayne State University Press.

Kristin Brace, an exceptional former student, has her first collection, Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin coming out from Finishing Line Press. The collection centers around Kristin’s Gramma Rose. I read the work in manuscript. It will nourish your heart and soul. I promise. Finishing Line creates beautiful books. To learn more about Kristin and to order her book, go to kristinbrace.com.

Saint Peter and the Goldfinch

During my 38 years in the academic world, I was informed several times that I didn’t belong. My first year I was told that if I wanted to remain in academe I had to stop droppin’ the g at the end of –ing words. I replied that I was from a blue collar family who did that, and I wasn’t up for abandonin’ ’em.

Another charge was that I was sentimental. I have never understood the criticism of sentimentality. After all, its roots are a fusion of central parts of our humanity: sentiment and mentality.

I understand phony, false, deceptive feeling. Good heavens, we experience it every day since 45 began roaming the office. But sentimentality? Hmmmm. Are we suffering a fear of tenderness? Fear of feeling? Fear of empathy?

While teaching the composing of a poem, I found it was the cool student, the objective, the stand-offish, the critically thinking student who seldom composed an authentic poem. I dare say many of those who place critical thinking at the pinnacle of learning — and have no discernment as to when to apply it — may be the ones carrying false feeling.

As for me, to this day I tear up when I hear “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins. And now that the birds are migrating, I’m filling our feeders several times a day. The gathering of goldfinches puts me right back on that park bench in London with that dear woman who is, “feeding the birds, tuppence a bag.”

This week’s poem is the title poem from a new collection appearing in 2019.

Saint Peter and the Goldfinch

He’d filled the little-roofed feeders with
sunflower and thistle seeds, hooks hanging
sturdy from the birch’s branches twisting

his own arm’s length above the mulch path,
the day’s first light lapsing along the leaves.
Peter knew the neighbors were talking

about the guy in the frayed cassock
who last week moved in with only
a pick-up’s bed of what seemed to be

belongings—a small table, couple
of ladder back chairs, a sound system
that looked vintage, a lot of books,

three futons, a large canvas bag
maybe filled with pans, pots, dishes,
and three lamps, one that likely dangled

tiny stars from its frayed shade.
He had gone out and brought home
an Adirondack and about fifty flower pots,

and the feeders. Now he took his morning
green tea out to the chair to wait for the birds.
This, he felt cross his mind, is what I have

waited for. He sipped. A house finch came.
A couple cardinals, a downy woodpecker.
The chickadees would take a seed, fly

into the branches of the hemlocks surrounding
the house and batter to get to the meat. Time
and time again they returned. Peter tried

to count then wondered why, stopped
and thought about what to plant
in the pots, where he would place them

within the striped grass that made a nest
for the house to sit within. He liked thinking
he had nested. He liked thinking everything

here could be taken away. He had cosmos,
impatiens–no perennials, not until bloom
and loss became a ritual, sacred. There was

a breeze. There was the tea. And then there was
a goldfinch, just one, at the thistle feeder, its startle
of yellow and black seamless within its feathers.

Peter watched as it took the seed, sat above him.
He watched as the bird flew to the feeder, flew back
to the same branch. St. Peter and the goldfinch

here in the day’s beginning. He could not bow his head.
He knew this was time. He knew what the earth knew.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Colorado 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!