The Hidden Permutations of Love

Oh it’s likely having reached this age, but I keep recalling days when the news attended primarily to events and what programs and bills the government was working on.

Now I keep thinking that it’s all gone the way of those magazines you see as you pass through the grocery line.

45 has let loose a cult of personality about as demented as it can get: lies, obfuscation, evasion are just fine so long as they are used for a self–serving economic policy and a narcissistic end.

Oh, it’s always been there, here and there, bits and pieces. I’m not naive. But there used to be integrity to counter all of this. Tricky Dick. Not everyone Liked Ike. Harry, so sure of himself. But this is not the same. What president of these United States rallies a frightening mob by shouting “BULLSHIT!”

Mom! Get out the soap and wash out that vile mouth for all of us.

You don’t have to follow any tradition to take in how Pastor Sal in our Douglas UCC church closes each service with Bishop John Shelby Spong’s gentle litany: “Live fully, love wastefully, and have the courage to be all you were meant to be.”

Yes. Let’s.

The Hidden Permutations of Love

He thought he would build a fence.
Not to keep anything out or in. He’d
make it of stones and branches
piled in the woods out back. He’d
weave the branches. He’d balance
the stones, make the fence
a mixed reminder, two textures,
one holding him to the ground,
one taking him into what
is above. He would sit by
the window and watch her walk
along it, touching the wood and
stone. She would stop to notice
how he had finely fit every rock
and branch, the wind able to move
through each open place. A sparrow
would come, perch long enough
to open a seed. Squirrels would
run along the ridge. He thought
he would plant English ivy,
burning bush, and wedding veil
hoping to see them climb, spread,
entangle, bring out the unnamable
hues of green, see them catch
the light and glisten in the rain.

–Jack Ridl

Published in an alternative form in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)

You are invited to help us celebrate Jack’s new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch at:


Songs by The Persisterhood Choir
A Conversation: Jack’s Poems with Jazz by The John Shea Trio

Book Signing and Party Time to follow!

DATE: April 5
PLACE: Douglas United Church of Christ, on the corner of Spring and Wall Streets
TIME: 6:30pm
Please RSVP here to help us plan this event:

Bring a bottle and a plate if you can, but not if you can’t.

Join the Waiting List for Poetry Trauma, March 20
This workshop is currently full, but usually people drop as the date approaches. Or, if we have enough people join the waiting list, we will schedule it again, inviting the waitlist folks first. Join the waiting list at this link:

Workshop on March 23 at Grace Episcopal Church, Holland, MI
Jack will lead this workshop, sharing approaches to Writing Personal History at Grace Episcopal Church in Holland, Michigan. Time 10-1:30. Contact the church to sign up.

8 thoughts on “The Hidden Permutations of Love

  1. Jack,

    What a great poem. We need to build fences like your poem states in Hidden Permutations of Love and not walls like 45 and his followers want. I look forward to your Thursday entries. Sometimes I wish I were in town so I could attend some of your events but then I look at the weather and Florida looks pretty good.


    • Yeah. Stay stay stay where you are, Dave!

      And thanks so much for this affirmation. It matters.
      Oh, it matters all right!
      PS. Give dear Heidi a big hello from me.

  2. After the 2016 election, I sent a copy of Frost’s “Mending Wall” to the White House. I also made a sign for one of the marches here in GR that said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” (Not sure many got the reference)
    Anyway, your wall sounds ever so more humane and delightful. Thank you for your weekly insights.

    • Hi Linda,
      Please know how much your affirmation helps me keep on going.
      I love knowing of your sign.
      “A whole lot of us now don’t love a wall”
      My poem’s wall is a welcoming and wailing wall.

  3. I love your Hidden Permutations of Love. I noticed that many who commented on this poem referred to “the fence he thought he would build.” He actually didn’t build a fence; like you said, he only THOUGHT he was going to build a fence. He actually built a decorative trellis that supported beautiful things, and brought people together. I’ve been so very much influenced by my father, whom you so well know, who taught me that Robert Frost did NOT mean mending the wall was a useful endeavour. Instead, Frost created characters, somewhat acquainted with each other (never to be real friends), who annually, dutifully, futilely repaired the wall between their properties, wrongly believing that “good fences make good neighbors.” I do believe Robert Frost has turned over in his grave, as has my father, innumerable times since November 2016; and, I have angered “red” friends over the misinterpretation of “Mending Wall.” So, I won’t bother you with the Santa image many people (…and I mean adults…who have sat in American Lit classes) see in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

    • You should see my rueful smile as I type this, Carol.
      Oh how I love your dad. He’s still with me, was with me
      when I taught. As George Bleasby, another influence, would
      say, “Charlie loved the stuff.” Oh my yes, all those terrible readings
      of Frost, one of the worst being that “The Road Less Traveled” is about
      nonconformity when the main character, speaker is rationalizing. It’s
      anything but “brave.” And it ends on a cliche, for heaven’s sake. Everything
      makes all the difference for heaven’s sake! Santa in “Stopping by Woods . . .”????????
      Oh dear. Oh dear. What a difference between the utterance of the next to last
      line and the repeat in the last line. Sigh.
      But I’m sure glad you love the poem and that you saw that he only THOUGHT about
      that wall. Hey, I connected with Frost on that easily missed “little” word.
      I’m so grateful for you!!

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