Blue Sky Over Key West

Welcome to Key West, where we are on our little houseboat soaking up lots of lack of inhibition. Several years ago Key West seceded from the U.S., for a moment, anyway, establishing itself as The Conch Republic, the flag of which flies high still around town. If you’ve been troubled by and since the election, come on down. While the T-Word’s T-shirts and hats sell well, and ironically, at The Little Truman White House here, this fashion statement is one not seen on the locals. Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Idea of Order at Key West” remains such, merely an idea. There ain’t much order here. Drop your repressions at Mile Marker One.

Our pier in the city marina, Marlin Pier, is home to a gaggle of joy-filled, caring souls ranging in age from 12 to 90. Vocations and passions include artists, jewelry makers, CSI retirees, fireworks entrepreneurs, horticulturists, teachers of the year in science, blues singers, rock musicians, ice cream shop owners, government workers, sea captains, a Welsh screen writer, eight dogs, day laborers, former Pentagon photographers, knitters, actors, an adventurer who has survived three avalanches, shop owners, charter fishing captains, gourmet chefs on tour boats, and us. It’s the best assisted living set-up in the world: If “Jane isn’t up and out on the pier by ten, we check on her.”

When we arrived on Friday and headed down the pier, we were hugged and kissed and welcomed with the warmth usually offered those who have returned from outer space. Well . . .

“Don’t just do something, sit there!” Come recover for a bit. Just remember that this is a place where on Sabbath morning the parking lot used by the parishioners of the Unity Church is the one owned by the Bare Assets Nightclub.

This week’s poem…

Blue Sky Over Key West

Sometimes when we stand in the loss
of it all, surrounded by what we will never

be, the sky seems to be just fine. It’s blue.
It’s many shades of blue. And it’s there

and will be when we join the landscape
of the invisible. Clouds cross, none ever

the same. And that’s when we realize again
that there actually is no sky, just another

anonymous unknown we are sure we see.
When our dog steps out onto the deck of

our little houseboat bobbing on the nameless
blue-green of this bight and lifts his nose into

the gull-crossed and sea-soaked breeze,
does he see our sky? I like to suppose

he does. Though most likely it’s something
his gentle nose has brought for only him to view.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville Review


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18 thoughts on “Blue Sky Over Key West

  1. In prose and poetry the two of you bring this little place to life — thanks for letting me be there for about 10 minutes as I read. And now I glanced up at my own pale not deep blue sky through the seekers in times of my skylight. — peace — Jane (I left the mistake in the line above that my dictation machine decided it wanted me to say — I like the notion of “seekers in times” — what I meant to say was cedars and pines :-))

    • Jane, I hope it’s okay to say that the music in your response is beautiful: talk about rhythm of
      sentence embodying the affect of the voice. And don’t ya love when the muse inhabits lines dictation
      machine! A student from the past, Wesley Ceeley, had a misfiring typewriter and he always followed it
      when he composed his poems. He gave himself a nome de plume because he said, “I can’t take full credit.
      The poems are written by the two of us.” Oh my, “Seekers in Time”–that’s what we are!
      Thanks for letting us know that you are here with us through
      the pieces. That’s such a joy. I’ve always tried to make the writing go past communication in order
      to create communion. I hope that’s not as pretentious as the words make it seem!! Big hi to Larry.
      Love to you two always

  2. Oh, this is a goodie I’ve never seen before! That Charlie and his nose! And your intro–a classic of the non-classic (hyphenated like T’s “non-sense”). When you said “and us” I wondered how someone else writing a similar list would have listed you two. Hope you’re having a ton of fun.

    • Soooo glad to have one you hadn’t seen land with ya! It’s Friday here and you and I should be
      having coffee at the Key West Respite! We are indeed having a lot of fun because our fun is
      having nothing fun to do! Oxymoronic, eh? Went to a mentalist show last night. He called me
      up, stared at me, said he’d tell me what’s on my mind, stared some more, then admitted, “I
      got nothin’.” All I could say was, “How’d you know that???”

  3. Oh man…I’m coming down. I want that kind of community here! What a list poem this would be!

    And the poem…gull-crossed, sea-soaked breeze….mmmm….


    • The door is open! Bev just came out with her chair, the signal for one and all
      to gather with her for happy hour on the pier. We all tell one another what
      we each didn’t do again today!

  4. “And that’s when we realize that there actually is no sky, just another anonymous unknown we are sure we see.” We are all so certain that we’ve found that objective blue, aren’t we? Isn’t it enough for me to trust my own nose, my own eyes, to trust that you have your own sense of the unknown? I like to suppose you do.
    Jack, we could all use a Charlie to travel with–thanks for the verse!

  5. Thank you for your wonderful poems! I love receiving them every Thursday. Because you write from Key West this time, I thought I’d drop you a line and let you know how much I appreciate the artistic sensibility that you bring to this otherwise ridiculous nightmare we are living through – for now anyway. And to let you know that I will soon be in Key West and would love to meet you if you are still planning to be there around that time.

    My husband and I (and our cat) are living and cruising full-time on our sailboat, a 43-foot catamaran, after living in Austin, TX for 25+ years and retiring from our jobs there a year ago. Within the next week we will sail over to the Bahamas, but plan to return to the Keys by late March/early April, as we are joining a “rally” of other cruising sailboats (24 total) headed for Havana, Cuba. If all goes as planned, we’ll depart on April 4 and return to Key West on April 19. So, if you will still be there, either right before April 4 or after April 19, I’d enjoy meeting you. If we don’t meet, that’s OK too – either way, I wanted you to know that your poetry does make a difference, to yet another of your readers.

    Wishing you warm days and blue skies while you are in Key West.

    Thanks, again, for your words that express so many things, so beautifully.

    Barbara Owens S/V Raven (Leopard 43)

    • Barbara, I sure hope you can know how much what you write here matters/means to me.
      It helps to know that what I am trying to do has come through for you. Thanks so
      much for telling me!

      We have to have you two come to the houseboat when you land in Key West. We’re coming back
      on April 11 and will be here on the boat until May 2. So, YES! we’ll have you over for some sips
      and a saunter on houseboat rows! Text me at 616-834-1207 when you sail in and we’ll set something up.
      We are at the City Marina, Garrison Bight, Marlin Pier #19.

      Here’s wishing you three marvel-filled times. Here’s a book by a former student that I bet you
      guys would like. It takes place in the bone fishing flats of the Bahamas and is receiving wonderful acclaim. The title is
      Body of Water–by Chris Dombrowski. And the book to savor for Key West is Last Train to Paradise.

      Thank you over and over again
      Jack and Julie

  6. I LOVE this….thank you thank you. And now I have an even better image of your Florida digs and your life on the water.

    Oh, be well and joyous, my dear friend. And if you can find it, Read Stanley Kunitz’s essay The Poet and the State.

    Embraces from here to there. D. Dale M. Kushner

    author of The Conditions of Love now available

    Please visit me on my website and Facebook and my Psychology Today blog


    • I should dear you a photo or two from the deck!!
      I’m so glad you loved this one. Have to say, me too because
      it was all such a delight to write. You know what that’s like, but
      it doesn’t always happen !!!!

      Dear Stanley. Aren’t we lucky to still have him with us this way.
      Love youuuuuu
      Jack who with Julie would love to have you two show up here!!!

    • Vivian, Yes yes yes, to breathe, really breathe. Thank you for letting me know
      that this happened for you. How else can one know if what one’s trying to give
      finds where it hopes to be!

    • Arda, dear Friend–
      Ya hope and hope that a poem arrives for someone at the right time. To know that this happened for you is a joy! You have been so important in keeping me going with this crazy art. Thank you from the highest trapeze!

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