Suite for the Turning Year

I have so enjoyed hearing from you. If you have left a comment on one of these posts, I have responded there to your response. Just wanted you to know. I’m not sure if you are notified.

Seldom here along Lake Michigan do the seasons move gradually one into another. Only a week ago, the temperatures were in the benign low 70s. One day we walked without a coat, the sky deep blue and uncluttered by rain clouds. Then before we could get out the scarves, the temperature sent us for sweaters, space heaters, gloves, and roused the angst of shovels.

We are coming upon a terrible anniversary. It’s hard, when so many are being hurt so profoundly, to suggest that this will pass. But the seasons do come along. If we are lucky, we will breathe through to the other side. Whatever that holds.

The following is a longer poem, but maybe you will find it warm within and want to linger.

Suite for the Turning Year

Sometimes when the dogs are asleep,
and the whole world seems quietly
poised between green and brown,
when everything is lascivious with
leaves—the ground, the porch floor,
the holly bushes, even a few last trees–
you can see a glimpse of the way
the clapboard house was set within
this woods, almost see them nailing
the sills under the windows and
carrying in the kindling. The air
sifts across your forehead, and you
look up, hearing the chill jabber
of the chickadees, the quick
scattering of chipmunks, and
in the anonymous distance,
the disappearance of the sound
of children or was it a car? There
is no need for a letter in the mail,
no thought of putting away
the pots of yellowed impatiens.
Just this little time and
perhaps, a little more.

Feeling this way in the afternoon.
Not because it’s November. The burnished
landscape lends an invitation to sit,
a blanket across knees that once bent
and knelt to plant a hundred bulbs,
pull a thousand weeds. This month’s
brown cold is welcome. Within the calm,
there is no guilty need to do, no frantic
thought that one had better take advantage
of the long day’s light. Oh, the dogs still
need their walk. And there are dishes. But
we can listen to the radio, can watch the slow
breathing of the cats, look for this year’s
yearlings as they cross the hill behind the house.
Still the world must make space for us
to sit, walk, sleep, give up itself to give us
room. Later this afternoon, after I build
a fire, we’ll pull down our book of maps,
imagine our breath is giving something back,
alchemizing oxygen into gratitude even though
we are an inconvenience in the world.

The sun beats down
somewhere else
and the moon is lower
than the tops of the trees.
The cats come back from
their prowl and curl up
in front of the back door.
Coming up the street,
the headlights on the night
shift worker’s car turn
into his driveway. We
can hear the refrigerator,
the pump in the basement,
the fan in the bedroom
upstairs. If there are
ghosts, they have only
our silence and the last
of the moon’s borrowed light.

Light lies on the oriole’s nest,
fallen empty in the euonymus.
Strands of lobelia hang over the edges
of the chipped terra cotta pots
on the back step. There’s an old
novel on the kitchen table, one cat
asleep under the hanging basket.
On the porch a watering can
is giving in to rust. The cracked pink
flamingo stands bent on its iron legs.

Two days of soft snow lie
under the moon’s stolen light.
It’s early winter. Now a quiet

accumulation of cold comes
in its slow way. I wait
for stillness, its stay. Why

think of winter in winter?

Maybe to follow my father
through the old grass into
the deer’s long walk across the snow.

Sometimes when the snow
is nearly deep enough
to keep us home, we stay
in anyway, carry in kindling,
build a fire, unfold blankets,
and stack the books we open
now and then. Next to us
we set a pot of coffee, add
a log when we must. Wind
passes, whirling little lifts
of snow against the window.
The dogs sleep as if we’re gone.
Others have to leave. We know.
The mail will arrive at noon,
the newspaper by evening.
It won’t matter as much.
After sleep, there will be ashes
under the grate, a little less
wood to burn, more or not
as much snow. We may
play some Lester Young
and Etta James, let his sax and
her voice smolder in the coals.
How good it is to be in here,
on the couch, the dogs asleep
against the pillows at the ends
as if we are safe in the great
Kingdom of Rain. Death
with its lisping end rhymes
stands under an umbrella.
The rain against the windows
is a language, its assonance
an uninvited solace. Cold
will come again. We can’t
move south. We have sweaters.
We depend on a shovel
and the neighbor’s plow.
We depend on music, on
knowing we no longer
need to say we love one
another. Love is Emanuel.
This rain. The leaves.
This music on the radio
is music on the radio.
The dogs sleep with
their names. These leaves,
this music, this rain.
–Jack Ridl
First published in The Louisville Review

Published subsequently in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)

18 thoughts on “Suite for the Turning Year

  1. This is one of my favorites. It makes me long for our cottage up north. Our home in Rockford will have to do.

    Sent from my iPad


    • No! Head to the cottage! Right now1
      What a joy to know this poem is a favorite. That’s a
      beautiful gift to this scribbler.
      Thanks for telling me this. And let comfort come over and again!

  2. Thank you for giving me space to breathe. In, out, in, out. The coffee maker is gurgling it’s good morning and as I look down on my little list of things, I cross off “read Jack’s poem”.

    • I have dreamed of being on a check list!

      Seriously, to know that the poems help with breathing in, out, and on
      enables this heart to keep on.
      Keep that coffee maker gurgling: it’s one of the great good sounds.

  3. Thank you so much for your weekly poems. I attended Hope from 1971-1975 but, sadly, did not have you as a professor . Please know your poems have been a welcome light in this dark time in our country.

    • Your lovely message makes me regret we didn’t get to work together in a class, too!
      To know that the poems have been a welcome light means everything, affirming the
      hope that this project matters to the good hearts such as yours.
      Thank ye!

  4. Gosh. Needed these thoughts woven so well to usher in some stillness. Life has been racing here. And my running shoes are wearing out. Appreciated this ‘time out’. Thanks for always sending and writing and sending and caring.

    • I love the word stillness. I hope you can set aside racing for reflecting.
      And I so appreciate your thankfulness and thoughtfulness. Hug that dear Dave.

  5. “These leaves, this music, this rain…” this infectious presence in the moment, this stillness, this reverence…yes! This poem exudes the calm, the waiting, and the silence of the turning seasons. Thank you for this gift!

  6. Very enjoyable read, Jack, and a comfort for the mind and soul, regarding the changes of the seasons. I have always loved all the seasons, and with each seasonal change they bring their own distinctive sweet memories, and individual attractions. They reflect now, more so than before, the stages of my life, now that I have become 72 years old. I now have a better perspective, of the aging process, and that at any age life it has its blessings, and the seasonal changes reflect on the beauty of it all, and how it is a part of growth and acceptance of the youthful flower fading into winter’s white beauty.

  7. My student passed away one year ago and this poem gives a space his absence. Cruel November with its shifting weather….that you for Sharing your writing. There is great comfort in your words. A Jack bear hug on a frosty morning.

    • Oh Amy-Lynn. I never venture to try to say anything. What is there
      to say to that for which there are no words. The presence of
      absence is a reality beyond words.
      With care and thanks

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