He Went to The City of Bridges

Pittsburgh is my home city. My sister still lives there. Many times I wonder why I don’t. On November 27th the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Manfred Honeck and featuring the Mendelssohn Choir and Itzhak Perlman, presented “Tree of Life: A Concert for Peace and Unity,” a gift of music as response to the 11 people killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue. My sister attended that concert.

Tonight, streaming it on PBS, Julie and I watched and listened to the performance. We encourage you to as well. The performance is available behind that link, above.

Pittsburgh’s Fred Rogers said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Some of those helpers created this concert. The arts are capable of transcending, of comforting, of helping us feel we aren’t alone. When asked what you think, answer “Music.”

Pittsburgh is a relatively small city, one made up of neighborhoods, many inhabited by varied cultures. And only New York has more bridges. Pittsburgh is known as The City of Bridges. Bridges connect.

He Went to The City of Bridges

He went to The City of Bridges.
He stood in front of the synagogue.
He dared shake the hand of the Rabbi.

He said what his daughter, her husband
told him to say. He went to The City
of Bridges. He went to the city of

neighborhoods. He did not enter
The Cathedral of Learning. He did
not look in the eyes of those sitting shiva.

He proclaimed he saw no one standing in lines
with their signs: “YOU are NOT welcome”
in The City of Bridges. He went to The City

of Bridges to meet the Carnegies, to see
where the steel barons sat. The others stood
at the church where Fred Rogers knelt.

He stopped by on the way to his rally.
In The City of Bridges, there was a rally
for HIAS, for peace, for health, and for love.

He went to The City of Bridges, one built
by the -iches, the -icis, the -ids, and the -o’s.
And I’m pretty damn sure that he crossed

the irregular streets where my immigrant
Bohemian hunky great-grandfather drove
horses hitched to a wagon hauling barrels

of beer through the city where his own son,
sixteen, said he was 20, so that day after weeks
he could stand on the monotonous

line, do his irrelevant, replaceable job.
At the end of that line was something that lined
the tailored twill pockets of those balancing books.

He stood so his family could eat, have
a car, and a house, a new radio. I carry hunky
in my blood, my heritage a shit hole country.

He went to The City of Bridges. Then on
to his base to proclaim to their cheers
he was loved. Loved. Not by the murdered.

Not by the trodden, the poor, the betrayed.
Not to the sorrow-filled veils. Not to the
hope-draped at the border, all ordered

to hand over their photos, their wallets,
their backpacks, their toothpaste, and children.
At 45’s rally, the congregants roared,

“Lock her up!” Blasphemed, “Great!”
Cheered on their hate while out there,
somewhere, someone was smiling,

planning, constructing a bomb, or
stroking a gun while the bereaved,
the love-broken sat shiva.

He went to The City of Bridges.

–Jack Ridl

HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, opened its doors in 1881 to aid Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. Their doors have remained open in support of anyone fleeing persecution. Please consider supporting them here.

Don’t forget to check out Holland Weekly at hollandweekly.com

And Todd Davis’s new collection of poems, Native Species (Michigan State University Press) will be out January 1st. One can pre-order. Jane Hirshfield writes, “Reading Todd Davis’s gorgeous poems, you can’t help but feel that [our] capacities for this way of seeing and naming have been mysteriously increased.”


On April 1 (perfect!)  my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!

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Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

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.

10 thoughts on “He Went to The City of Bridges

  1. Thank you Jack that was very moving. We all need to visit our own City of Bridges, where ever they may be, and continue to build them in our community. If we stayed connected, and joined together, we cannot be overcome.



  2. Jack,

    A powerful new poem from your pen. I’m thankful for your conviction and the words you speak against the criminal who denigrates the presidency.

    I love your stories of your parents and grandparents and great grandparents. I love your stories of the people who are overlooked. That’s the main reason I’ve called myself a Christian all these years: it’s about what we do for “the least of these.” I’m so thankful for your immigrant family. If they had not persevered, I wouldn’t have my best buddy in Douglas!

    Thanks, too, for telling folks about my new book. You are such a good champion of other poets.

    Shelly, Noah, and I drove to Greensburg Tuesday night to watch Nathan play Wheeling Jesuit. Seton Hill won, thankfully, and Nathan had 21 points and 8 rebounds. We’ll watch him play East Stroudsburg and Westchester next Tuesday and Wednesday and then bring him home for 7 days.

    Our minds are consumed with hoops these days, as I’m sure you remember from all the seasons you endured (and maybe celebrated a little, too). We try to make fun of ourselves for such obsessions, to remind ourselves that there are so many other things to be thankful for and that are more important. Still…..it’s basketball.




    • It is indeed basketball. It’s us. It’s you. It’s anything that matters
      in ineffable ways, especially in family where the care and love of
      such are most vulnerable. it’s also not just basketball; it’s a
      son and a mom and a dad and a brother and one of those places
      where one is in the world of the either/or, wide open naked
      to praise (which Rilke said we need to learn to do) or
      knife throwing from the inept and ignorant. How blessed
      and fortunate your boys are to have you two. One game the son
      is the “Best of these,” another game one of the “Least of these.”

  3. Jack. Thank you for moving me to open my eyes again and see the goodness in people that holds up even when 45 and the haters enter to throw their bombs. Peace, Jane

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