Bus Driver

At the college where I got to teach, classes were held on Labor Day. The reason often given was that if there are no classes, the first year students might go home and not return, perhaps victims of homesickness.

I may be mistaken, but I don’t recall any events, ceremonies, lectures, or services at that school that celebrated or taught or honored those who labor, those who cleaned the restrooms, responded to 85 papers within a few days, performed surgery, changed the newborn’s diaper at 3am, stood up for justice… You can add to the list.

My grandfather spent fifty years, eight hours a day, working the assembly line at Westinghouse Air Brake. The least I could do was spend the class hour reading labor poems to the students.

We certainly can’t say that 45 has ever labored. All he’s ever done is whatever he wants. That, obviously, is not labor. That is acting out as a spoiled brat, and spoiled brats invariably put others at risk, whether at recess, or, in his case, with the world’s lives.

Each day those of us under his rule must consistently and unwillingly labor at dealing with “Now what’s he said or done!?”

Bus Driver

Standing at the back door, waiting
while the bus’s engine hums
against the dark cold, its exhaust
a flume chilling into ice, melting
the snow beneath it, Driver, hands
in pockets, draws on his cigarette,
exhales, and feels the mean language
of age move in his bones.

Behind him, in the losers’ locker room,
he knows his boys are dressing slowly,
staring into mirrors, setting their
wet hair straight, frowning at the way
they have to look, trying to think of
anything but the silent ride home.

The snow, packed hard now in mid-winter,
squeaks under foot, and the air freezes
in the lungs, burns like a tongue
stuck to a frozen lamppost. Driver
glances at the bus, “Wilson Public Schools”
in black letters along its side, then up into
the sky, clouds crossing the full moon’s
light like angels trying to comfort

anyone against a loss. The players
come out, pass him, step up into
the bus, find their seats. Coach
gets on last, sits in front. Driver
takes a last draw, feels the smoke
mix in his lungs, exhales, drops
the butt, a quiet hiss into the ice,
gets on and pulls the warm bus out,
across the empty lot, down a block,
left onto the highway home.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Poetry East.

Subsequently published in Losing Season (CavanKerry Press)

Donald Revell has published Sudden Eden, a collection of his essays on poetry from Parlor Press. You want this book.

And Naomi Shihab Nye’s new collection is The Tiny Journalist, from BOA. Each poem is written in the voice of a young Palestinian girl witnessing the atrocities of war. You want this one too.

Both Donald and Naomi have been abidingly supportive of this scribbler’s work.

Well here’s a late learning experience for ya. And a hilarious joke on me. I have always assumed XO meant hugs and kisses. Today I learned it’s kisses and hugs. If any of you have been offended, or otherwise provoked, by my signing off with kisses, please alter them to hugs. From now on—-OOO.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, 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.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Kindness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Everyday Forgiveness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Empathy.

Jack Ridl at Fetzer Institute on Suffering and Love.

Beyond Meaning with Jack Ridl, C3: West Michigan’s Spiritual Connection

12 thoughts on “Bus Driver

  1. Keep it up Jack. I identified with this post. My grandfather came from Poland and worked in the coal mines before moving to Chicago. My dad worked for Morton Salt his entire adult life. All so the kids could have a better life. I am saddened at the third generation America who are anti-immigrant.

    Sent from my iPhone


    • First of all, I send care and deep concern for dear good you.

      Soooooo glad you saw that poem. I always hope the words
      transform themselves into something seen, heard, etc.

  2. Dear Jack,
    ..been a little negligent lately, short holiday and the like, and ….. even postponed the poems. “The unforgivable sin”, as Alexis Sorbas put it. Let me say this after reading up to the sad one: We have a famous opinion leader here among us Teutons who once wrote: “Two or three words put together in a non-everday-like fashion and levitation begins.” And, let me continue: Although being part of those who have been bound to learn “the mean language of age” and although having read what you wrote in memory of your former Dean I can’t help being levitated.
    What do we make of it? Saying thank you for so meticulously weighing and choosing your words is probably a first step. The next one would be to thank you for constantly doing so. And number three could be a hug right out of the levitation. … Teutons don’t normally do that, I know, but my Polish heritage …
    The best of best wishes

    • Dear Reinhard,
      As one whose blood comes from what was Bohemia, I am grateful that you let loose your Polish DNA. Your hug is here and cherished.
      I most certainly have a limited and limiting vocabulary and therefore work hard at “weighing and choosing.” Your seeing that
      is an affirmation that will stay with me, and that will keep saying yes to each attempt to serve the poetry that is wanting
      to find its way into a poem.
      Please feel my heart deep gratitude

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