The Revolution on Ward B

When I was a kid, maybe seven, and growing up in our church, we played a game called “Bible Baseball.”

You were tossed a pitch–a question. Answer correctly, you got a home run. Wrong, and you were out.

I was up at bat and in came the question: “How many sins did Jesus commit?” I said, “One.”

OUT!

As we were leaving, the minister took me aside and asked, “Why in the world, did you say Jesus committed a sin?!” I shrugged and said, “When he went to the temple, he didn’t tell his mom and dad where he was going.”

To this day, it seems a reasonable answer. What seems unreasonable is why that matters. In fact, by today’s miasma of morals, it looks to me as if the Jesus I know spent most of his time committing sins.

He didn’t want to found some religion. He was a Jew who saw his religion being misused. And he was a rebel who saw government full of corruption. And he saw the dominant values of the day in need of a revolution. Today 45 would be tweeting incessantly about this loser.

And Jesus was rather “Zen-ish.”  “The last shall be first.” Certainly as one opposed to hierarchies — be they of wealth, prestige, or evaluation — he was not reversing the order. Good heavens, that would have had everyone scrambling to be last (“Hey! I’m last. Get in FRONT of me!”).

He was clearly disordering the order.

Unlike under 45 where the “first” are always first in privilege, benefits, health, nourishment, housing, economic assurance, and-and-and, in Jesus’s unruly and un-ruled “kindom” the last shall/should be the first to be cared for.

The Revolution on Ward B

The rooms opened like gaps between a drunkard’s teeth.
In each, decaying, full of unneeded breath
crouched my cohorts in conspiracy.
We gathered like moths around our thoughts
amid the pillows, pills, and stacks of cards.
Away from those afraid to visit us,
we plotted, pricked the mind’s map,
set our pins strategically,
and prepared to charge full force
into the ambush of our past.

General Peterson led us against the sun.
He pulled the shades each morning,
never let the word get out. Joan
of Arkansas held matches with her toes,
lit them, yelling for supplies. Old
Mrs. Pinelli saved her food, sacked it
in her pillow, afraid we might run short.
Young Ben cried, said he didn’t want to die,
and hanged himself with his jump rope.
McBurney grabbed his penis and like Lancelot
charged the lobby shouting, “Viva la personalitie!”
I held the fort, a sentry watching
for a change of mind in us, a change
of heart in them. We were a ragged
mind against the mob.

We were the soldiers whose eyes cut corners.
We were the children’s crusade.
We were the catatonic Quakers.
We were the martyrs without a prayer.

With nothing to gain and less to lose
we revolted against their vision of our lives.
Our bombs rolled across our loved ones’ faces.
Our machine guns dittoed our only way out.
Our mines quivered in the commonplace: We
set them in the supermarket, underneath
the boss’s desk, under the grade book,
and on the putting green. “NUTS!”
we laughed when they’d demand surrender.
We’d never spill our brains for them.

They held with all they had:
Tiptoed down the corridor.
Smiled at our drills.
Turned the television up for Mr. Cobb.
Sent in ten cookies for the twelve of us.
Said our visitors were waiting in the hall.

We hollered, “NUTS!” till Peterson saw the moon.
Then shivering, nerves eating the air, morale
turning against us on its own, we wrapped
our feet in sheets and trudged back
across the snow without a flag.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Southern Poetry Review
Subsequently published in The Same Ghost (Dawn Valley Press)

ANNUAL RED DOCK READING
Coming up Tuesday, August 14 at 6:30pm: “The Fifth Annual Red Dock Reading,” under the direction of Tony Amato Productions with special guest Laura Donnelly who will calm the waters. Come early. Enjoy the atmosphere and the food and beverages. To assure yourself of a seat, bring a chair.

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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!

 

War Mother

The Attack on NATO — My father seldom talked about his experiences in WWII. As Captain of a black company he led his troops throughout Europe and then into the Philippines. My wife Julie’s father was a Naval officer, the Captain of a destroyer, monitoring atomic testing, heading to Cuba during the missile crisis. He was in charge of the Naval Station at Subic Bay in the Philippines during the Vietnam war. One of her brothers was a Top Gun flyer who watched his buddy crash into the ocean. Her other brother happened to be at a meeting when the plane hit his office at the Pentagon.

At home waited their mothers. This of course has not changed. One loved one at war, the other at home. This poem of course represents that time, when primarily men were in combat.

War Mother

For the months
she would wait.
She taught me “Daddy.”
“Daddy,” I would say
as she held me,
stroked my head.

By her chair
the radio, the shape
of a church’s chancel,
gave her all the news.
She’d sit and listen,
rock me as she’d hum.

when certain songs
came on, she’d
lift me,
dance me cheek to cheek
around the room.

–Jack Ridl

From Between (Dawn Valley Press)

Lots of good news! These remarkable friends and writers all have new work. All available at your local bookstores and online. What a joy to celebrate with them!

1. Mary McSchmidt’s Uncharted Waters: Romance, Adventure, and Advocacy on the Great Lakes
2. Reka Jellema’s collection This Living
3. Anna-Lisa Cox’s The Bone and Sinew of the Land
4. Jacqueline Carey’s Starless
6. Jennifer Clark’s Johnny Clark’s Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman

I would “review” these here, but I’d fall short of how important and heart-nourishing each title is.

For those of you close by, Anna-Lisa and Jacqueline will be reading and being with all of us at the Douglas Library, July 22nd at 2pm.

And self–promotion number one thousand: Laura Donnelly will be joining me at The Red Dock on August 14. Starting time is 6:30. Come have some joy.

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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 Same Ghost

A child said to his parents, “If we visit America, will I be put in a cage?”

It’s too late. But not too late to create a place where such a question never enters the mind of anyone. The children in cages will carry trauma for the rest of their lives unless health care for all becomes no longer an issue, but an act of compassion.

This week I had a conversation with a 15-year-old Hispanic boy. I asked if he knew any families whose children were separated from their parents. He said no. Paused. Then said, “My parents do.”

Our daughter has a French god-daughter, Mathilde, whose whole family has become part of ours. Mathilde sent a message this morning wishing us a Happy 4th. This sent from the nation that gave us Lady Liberty.

Our son-in-law restored an amphibious vehicle, one that landed on Normandy Beach. When the French family visited and saw it, for several minutes the mother and father stood beside it in silence.

We have made online fast friends with the Kraas family in Tübingen, Germany. Norbert writes weekly and alerted Christian Zaschke who wrote the piece about this blog  project in SZ. Christian has become a member of our hearts’ world. Many German citizens respond to this little blog. They often write disappointments and warnings.

And so today I write on Independence Day. Independence. Not individualism. Not Freedom. Not the pursuit of happiness, often a pursuit in vain. I wish Jefferson had written about the Pursuit of Joy, or In Dependence. We depend on one another. We create the worlds others live in.

And so on this In Dependence Day, may we metaphorically and in spirit, parade with one another everywhere. Sure it’s a dream. Not terribly different from the so-called Founding Fathers who wrote “WE the people,” not “I the person.”

And so, to the Famille Saunier, the Kraas family, my new German friends, Christian, and all of you, I send hope for the restoration of “We” and the implementation of care for all who care.

No, child, you won’t be put in a cage. Not so far.

The Same Ghost

It’s the Spring in my
back pocket; it’s the old coat; it’s
the way you put your fingers on your buttons,
give the wind a nod, give me
one small lesson. I’ll not take anything
away; we can start again: we can live
in water; we can fly. Let me
pile some stones in a corner
and we’ll stand in our own
pain until feathers grow on the wall.
We are not alone. Listen!
It’s the same ghost
bringing us prayers and touching
the evening with its tongue.
And the clouds are moving over another field.
–Jack Ridl

from The Same Ghost (Dawn Valley Press)

COMING UP

Meridith and Jack Workshop at Oxbow
There’s still time to sign up for the fun class that daughter Meridith and I

are leading at Ox-Bow next week. You’ll get to write what you want to
write and then do a visual piece in response to what your wrote. A kind of reverse ekphrastic! Just go to the Ox-Bow website or call Dulcee to register at 269-857-5811

Fifth Annual Red Dock Reading, Douglas, MI

And again, mark those calendars for the Fifth Annual “Reading at The Red Dock” with the delight-filled Laura Donnelly. On Tuesday, August 14, 6:30pm. Come early.Last year the place was jammed. If you come later, bring a chair!

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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!

Oxbow Workshop!

Hi there, one and all–

My daughter Meridith Ridl and I will be teaching a class at Ox-Bow July 9-12, from 10am till 12:30. The max number of participants is 12. There are some openings. We’d sure love to have you join us.

This is an Art on the Meadow Class. We’ll start each day with some directed writing that you will enjoy, especially because you can write any way you like: fragments, notes, lines, sentences, prose, poetry, chicken scratches . . .  Then we’ll turn to coordinating what you wrote with a visual artwork.

Each day will be different.

To find out more and sign up, here’s what to do:

Register at http://www.ox-bow.org/art-on-the-meadow-day-course-registration

Or you can call Ox-Bow at 269-857-5811

Meridith and I would love to spend the week with you!

My Father Gardening in Heaven

Last week in a workshop — actually more like a salon — that I was asked to lead eleven years ago, the poets brought poems in which they described their heaven. Among the many moving heavens created were several that included…

*an absence of gun violence.
*rights not labeled privileges.
*health care for all without regard to ability to pay.
*respect for and care of the natural world.
*children not separated from their parents at the border.
*religions that didn’t just welcome all, but affirmed all.

Well, you get the idea.

I could call this approach heaven on earth, but for the fact that many of us affirm that this is the way earth should be on earth.

My Father Gardening in Heaven

The flowers are no taller here.
The cosmos carry their saucers
of burgundy and white, the fuchsias
dangle their puckered blossoms
no farther down than they do on earth.
Every flower adds its promiscuity
of scent, its audacity of color
to the unencumbered hues of heaven. Here
my father imagines snow-on-the-mountain
spreading across the clouds, succulents
thriving in the fierce sunlight, bleeding
heart drooping in the perfect air. Here
there are no slugs peeling the leaves,
no aphids ravenous in a flower’s veins.
The days are bereft of drought, the nights
solicit no unwelcome frost. Once, my father,
sleeping under the apple blossoms,
began to dream of spider mites, leaf hoppers,
and lace bugs cutting across his every plant.
He woke up shaking and reaching for a spray.
Adam turned from his hoeing, smiled. Eve
waved out the window. My father nodded,
stood up, took his rake and pulled it gently
over the straight and narrow furrows
he had loosened in the soft, sweet loam.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville Review

Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

Please mark your calendars for the Fifth Annual “Reading at The Red Dock.”
Tuesday evening, August 14, 6:30pm. Come early, grab a seat.

This year’s guest poet is Laura Donnelly, winner of the Cider Press Review Editors’ Prize for her collection Watershed. This past year Laura was named The State University of New York/Oswego’s Outstanding Professor.

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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!

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!