Saint Peter and the Goldfinch

Working on your taxes?

45 isn’t.


Have to self-celebrate: The new collection Saint Peter and the Goldfinch had its launch, “Gala for the Goldfinch” this past Friday. The women’s resistance choir Persisterhood opened the occasion by rousing the audience with rich harmonies and call-and-response songs. Then I joined The John Shea Jazz Trio for a conversation between poetry and jazz. Working with John and the trio has always been a highlight of my life. I can’t explain what it feels like to read a poem, then turn it over to the trio. It sure takes the pressure off this guy. Everyone feels the music.

After the trio and I finished, everyone partied. What felt so good was being sure that those there got to be away from the oppressive feeling we carry because of 45 and his relentless cruelty. To see the joy on all those faces–it deserves to be there time after time.

So many worked so hard behind the scenes to make this happen. So many. Especially Julie. Especially our friends at the DUCC and Wayne State University Press. Thanks to everyone!

Here, again, the title poem:

Saint Peter and the Goldfinch

He’d filled the little-roofed feeders with
sunflower and thistle seeds, hooks hanging
sturdy from the birch’s branches twisting

his own arm’s length above the mulch path,
the day’s first light lapsing along the leaves.
Peter knew the neighbors were talking

about the guy in the frayed cassock
who last week moved in with only
a pick-up’s bed of what seemed to be

belongings—a small table, couple
of ladder back chairs, a sound system
that looked vintage, a lot of books,

three futons, a large canvas bag
maybe filled with pans, pots, dishes,
and three lamps, one that dangled

tiny stars from its frayed shade.
He had gone out and brought home
an Adirondack and about fifty flower pots,

and the feeders. Now he took his morning
green tea out to the chair to wait for the birds.
This, he felt cross his mind, is what I have

waited for. He sipped. A house finch came.
A couple cardinals, a downy woodpecker.
The chickadees would take a seed, fly

into the branches of the hemlocks surrounding
the house and batter to get to the meat. Time
and time again they returned. Peter tried

to count then wondered why, stopped
and thought about what to plant
in the pots, where he would place them

within the striped grass that made a nest
for the house to sit within. He liked thinking
he had nested. He liked thinking everything

here could be taken away. He had cosmos,
impatiens—no perennials until bloom
and loss became a ritual, sacred. There was

a breeze. There was the tea. And then there was
a goldfinch, just one, at the thistle feeder, its startle
of yellow and black seamless within its feathers.

Peter watched as it took the seed, sat above him.
He watched as the bird flew to the feeder, flew back
to the same branch. St. Peter and the goldfinch

here in the day’s beginning. He could not bow
his head. He knew joy’s coupled sorrow. He knew
that this was time. He knew what the earth knew.

–Jack Ridl

First published in the Colorado Review

Subsequently published in Saint Peter and the Goldfinch (Wayne State University Press)

Kathleen Markland’s new collection A Pen, a Brush, a Book has been published and is available online.

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Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore 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.

22 thoughts on “Saint Peter and the Goldfinch

  1. Well done Jack! This poem resonates with me because I hear the same themes as the book I’m reading: Sacred Manhood Sacred Earth by Joseph Jastrab and Ron Schaumburg. “He knew what the Earth knew” is what the men are gleaning.
    Thank you.

  2. i’m sitting here telling Auden about the birds coming to the feeders—the black chinned hummingbird, the hairy woodpecker, the juncos and bushtits, our resident thrasher—and i opened this and just about cried. congrats on the book launch. i’m gonna buy a copy today.

  3. It was a grand celebration, both of you and the new book! All of us present felt blessed–we thank you and Julie and others for creating such a touching evening in these divisive times. Peace out!

  4. Jack, Happy to read about your event. While Elaine and I were not there physically, we were floating in the ether, feeling so happy for you. Tom

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. PS Jack. I preordered this. Will it arrive? Do I have to go to some site and pay (think I did that upfront when I pre-ordered!)


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