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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And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!


12 thoughts on “What To Do Instead

  1. Jack: thanks for this and all of the others . . . . Below, fyi . . . Best, David

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  2. Ooooh…is this another new one?? Not seeing it was published anywhere. I like…. that’s a prompt 🙂


  3. Love, love this. I went to a few of the readings at Hope with friends of mine, Ray and Alice Andrews, and have long been a big fan of your poetry, but just recently stumbled upon your website. This poem made me want to write again, for the first time in a long time. I love the soft, peaceful feel of it.

    • What could make me gladder than to know that a poem has welcomed you back
      to writing. It’s so important to discover that writing is a place where
      all kinds of wonders happen!
      Thank you for telling me this. One writes and wonders. To know this
      landed with you this way is an uplift to this heart.

  4. To feel the wind move beneath, above, beyond one’s art is part of what makes art-making a lively-hood. I dance to feel the wind beneath my feet. I ride horses because they are embodied wind and power and magic. I understand this man and his paint. Thank you for the wise introduction.

    • Al would have LOVED you. He may have painted your alive face and smile, but you
      would have laughed as he did.
      And oh was it a joy to be with you on the Red Dock. !!!!!

  5. And my response to that last line that I should not be reading during work time (except that I am losing my mind with the half-finished nature of everything around me at the start of the school year) – is that I look up to the clouds in the window above me and think, “I’m the only one holding myself captive.” “Out here the wind moves across my hands,” you wrote. There’s a choice I need to be making; to let the wind move and choose that freedom over the concerns of details we have invented for ourselves. Thank you for the inspiration!

    Sent from my iPhone


    • And yet it isn’t easy. Those such as Al had nothing flooding ’em as you do.

      But I do hope for you to feel the wind amidst it all.

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