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!

 

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.