Repairing the House

Right after college our daughter received a year long Watson Fellowship for her project proposal: to paint in the footsteps of Paul Cezanne. She began in Paris, finished in Aix en Provence where–hard to imagine–the curator invited her to paint in Cezanne’s studio anytime she wanted. We visited her, and on the first morning after our arrival in Paris, I asked her to give me a walking tour.
We headed up the street and then down an alley where she said, “Look up at all the balconies.” I did. “See the flower pots on each one?”
“What do you notice about them?”
“Uh, they’re beautiful.”
“Yes, but look again. They are all cracked.”

No one made a trip to the garden center to get new ones. Time and again we learn that something wonderful can happen, is preserved, evoked, when we recognize we really don’t have to repair everything, that some things when fixed lose their ineffable presence.

Repairing the House

We will learn the house can live
without our changes. We will

listen to its language. The cracks
along the stairway–they are sentences.

We will read what they say
when we go up, again when

we walk back down. When we
leave our sleep, our bed will hold

our place as the floor creaks under us.
If we fix the broken window, then

we will open it. The other windows
rise on their tracks; that’s enough;

one staying shut, tight, will still bring
light for any day, the others the breeze.

And we will learn to be with the ivy
straying along the back brick walls,

twisting itself into the mortar, each spring
a chunk or two falling into the holly.

We will feel a draft under the porch door.
We could block the cold from sliding

toward our feet. Instead, we will wear
socks, ones you made, while we sit facing

each other, reading on the sofa, its stuffing shifting
under us, the pillows giving way to what is left.

–Jack Ridl

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18 thoughts on “Repairing the House

  1. I am smiling with tears in my eyes. What a beautiful poet/ artist memory! When I am very old, I know I will repeat this as though it was my own experience!

    • Paula, you have always been there for me with such sensitive support.
      And I know that you saw that shift in meaning of “repair” from “fix” to “re-pair.”
      May it be always your own. That’s what a poem should be–an emblem of a “gift economy.”

    • Oh so good to hear. Thank you for telling me. It matters and keeps the project going.
      And I hope the poem stays perfect for many of your days.

  2. Hi Jack – this is what I needed this morning. As I read it I started hearing “Let it Be” play in my head. Thanks for sharing your wisdom today – honest to God yesterday I was looking at email and thought, “Where’s a poem from Jack?”and then realized it wasn’t Thursday yet. Thanks for this weekly gift – freely given – totally gratuitous (in the “on the house” sense of that word) – deeply appreciated.


    Jeff Munroe Executive Vice President

    ph 616.392.8555 x111 101 East 13th Street, Holland MI 49423-3622 [image: WTS_logo_email.png]

    • Thank ye, Jeff, so much. I love knowing you get these. Each Wednesday I sit down and
      know that I am writing to friends and what a great warm feeling that brings. Yes,
      definitely “on the house.” Oh to dwell in a gift economy.
      May the meaning of “repair” often shift from “fix” to “re-pair.”

    • Oh my yes.
      I love your reference to “falling down” for the poem!
      And for you two, may the meaning of “repair” often shift from “fix” to “re-pair.”

  3. I am sad I have never read this before. I have always had 2 poems on my wall at work–Praise Song by Lucille Clifton and James Wright’s poem, Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm. Now I have three; a great gift. Thank you Jack!

    • Oh my gosh, talk about an enormous joy and happy making honor. To know this poem means this to you sends warmth into this heart, Lisa, dear Lisa.
      Thank you for telling me this.
      When Lucille wrote in our daughter’s guest book, she wrote, “Does this make us friends? Does this make us sisters? Let’s say yes!”
      May the meaning of “repair” often shift from from “fix” to “re-pair.”

  4. I love this. Your word choices are so perfect! They even feel good to say out-loud. I love the way you manage to write in such an accepting and acceptable way that there is no intrusion upon the reader; no persuasion going on. By contrast,I find that I am writing in order to make a point (having forced myself to know what I was trying to say before I finish editing), and then I try to state it more and more clearly, and end up with what feels like a prosaic essay (or a muffled baseball bat). This beautiful moment and way of being is lovingly *surrendered* to the reader, never forced upon us. And always, always, always I am saying to myself…

    *how does he do that?* Forever a student of your wondrous talent and wisdom,


    • Your ability, Beth, to note what is both going on in a poem and what is
      refrained from presenting itself is remarkable and the latter ability
      is so very very rare. Of course if I am doing what you say I am, it’s
      because I don’t think I have a single thing to say, and simply try to
      reveal. It’s not the same, but is in the tradition of John Cage’s saying,
      “I have nothing to say and I’m saying it.” !! : )


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