There Are No Hidden Meanings

Tuesday evening I was invited to read at The Red Dock Cafe and Bar, one of the great venues for the arts in my town. A touch of old Key West in the Midwest, it sits out in the Harbor here where we get to live in Douglas/Saugatuck, Michigan. Tony Amato and his warm-hearted staff make everyone feel at home. If you can’t lay back at The Red Dock, you wouldn’t be able to lay back in a hot tub along the beaches of the Bahamas.

Joining me was the luminous poet Laura Donnelly, the sparkle of poet/translator Rebecca Kosick, and the ever-surprising Randy Smit. The place was tidal-wave full and with us. It was what a poetry reading is supposed to be–a gift to the soulful. And the soulful were there. At least I didn’t sniff an evaluator within a mile of the place.

All four of us, along with Tony and the Red Dock staff, were there to overcome, for a couple of hours, 45 and his gang, those who daily pollute our consciousness, distracting us from what we care about, from those we love.

So thank you, soulful souls. Thank you so very much.

There Are No Hidden Meanings
for Julie

This poem you’ll have to find.
Some hints: It’s nowhere in the house,
but can be gotten to by moving under the rugs.
It might be wise to follow where the dog has sniffed.
And watch the gulls: they have a knack for knowing.
Rain is often a talisman, and clouds can lure you.
Listen to the moon crawling across the sky,
but beware of evenings and bread dough.
Whenever a child stops suddenly, look there for a sign.
Mark any spot where you fall asleep.
If, while listening to birds, you notice
a hole in their song, walk into it.
Never underestimate the possibilities in a flea market.
And don’t overlook anything hanging from a nail.
Old ball gloves, wooden toys, weed beds, pocket watches,
cowbells, moths, musty clothes, and vinegar,
they can be signals that you’re close.
Follow any arrow on any pole.
Don’t ignore a detour sign.
Pause where there is mold.
And look especially close
at whatever it is you see every day.
You’ll find it when I won’t have to say,
“Cold, colder, warmer, warmer, hot.”

–Jack Ridl

Published in The Same Ghost (Dawn Valley Press, 1984)

Kristin Brace’s collection Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin has been released from Finishing Line Press

Laura Donnelly’s award winning Watershed is published by Cider House Press.

As always, let me know of recent publications among your folks. I sure don’t wanna overlook anyone.

 

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

Innkeeper

In many places Tuesday was primary election day. We got up and went to city hall in our village.

Sitting at the table were the same welcoming faces, volunteers who year after year guide us through the same process. A father and daughter sat next to each other, greeted us and checked to make sure we were all set to vote. And vote we did.

It’s one of those times when I take a pen, fill in a little circle beside a hopeful and feel that moment mattering. I took my ballot over to the same welcoming man who has done the same exiting task for umpteen years. He made sure all was correct, and pointed me to the machine that would take my ballot. As always, I picked up a piece of candy, put on my “I voted” sticker, then went to insert my ballot.

It got stuck. A woman who, too, has been there every time said, “Take it out of the folder. I won’t look.” I took it out, inserted it, and this time the machine took it. Then with Julie we walked into the day.

Here’s a little touch of our village–

Innkeeper

The innkeeper sits by the door, elbows
resting for the day on the oak desk.

She says, “Yes, looks like a day of rain.
Coffee’s hot,” to the early risers,

most pouring two cups then heading
back to their rooms. She likes to think

they are staying here with her. She
does her best to make their pause

between here and there pleasant.
“The gulls don’t care,” she smiles

when a wife and husband say
the weather’s bad. She knows how to

listen to the rain dripping from the eaves,
watch it hit the leaves of the basswood

outside the window to her left, feel
the soft wool of the blanket on her lap.

–Jack Ridl

The time for the reading at The Red Dock on Tuesday, August 14 is 6:30. Music prior.

Time to celebrate the following:

Kristin Brace’s collection Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin with cover by Meridith Ridl is now available from Finishing Line Press.

Katie Kalisz’s Quiet Woman will be released in January.

Former student Thomas Allbaugh has published the novel Apocalypse TV.

Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds by Greg Rappleye is coming soon from Dos Madres Press.

Again, let me know of any new works. I sure don’t want to leave out anyone.

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

 

The Healers

Those with the gift of empathy are all but done in, overwhelmed by entering into the suffering of others. Not too long ago I read an article that discussed the cost of empathy. We, of course, know that 45 has not a drip of empathy. Empathy is for “losers.”

What can we do who wake up helpless within the shadow of 45? Some work hard politically to change things. Some carry on serving in capacities empathic. But what of those of us who don’t have access to doing much of anything to counter “him” other than address flyers, stick stamps onto postcards that encourage electing those who want to serve, truly serve?

In the shadow of 45 and his lost souls, and his spineless cohorts, and his deceived supporters, what can we do?

Keep speaking truth to power–A patron at Tony Amato’s Red Dock Restaurant came up to him and snarled, “I bet you voted for that n____.” Tony held up two fingers, said, “Twice,” and ordered the roach to leave. We can also carry on by shifting our conversations to the lives of those in our lives who matter. We can realize that continuing dailiness, planting another flower, handing over some of our too many zucchini, saying hello to anyone, all those things that don’t change the big scene, but enrich the worlds each of us lives within.

I’m turning this into a sermon. Sorry. It’s the UCC church in me. Let’s never abandon giving our attention (a definition of love) to what and to whom we love and who love us.

When helplessness can’t be helped I recall Samuel Beckett saying, “I can’t go on, I must go on, I’ll go on.”

The Healers

My father guessed at work.
He gave me things to do.
We strangled weeds from the flower bed.
Washed the car.
Walked the dog.

My mother guessed at a mother’s love.
She went back to tucking sheets
Around me as I lay awake.
She pulled her fingers through my hair.
She turned away. She held me.

My good friend guessed at leaving town.
Se we lugged gravel, grinding gears
Up and down the western Pennsylvania hills.
We’d raise the bed and listen
To the gravel rush into a silent pile.

My preacher guessed at God.
He knew the answer, spread my sin.
Prayed, asked me to pray.
Sprinkled oil on my head.
Pronounced me of this world.

My doctor guessed at shock.
Strapped me down.
Hooked electrodes to my head.
Baptized me with volts.

I guessed at empty space
And all the breath
that I could spill to fill it up.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Three Rivers Poetry Journal
Subsequently published in The Same Ghost (Dawn Valley Press)

Good Reads
Here’s another fine, recently published collection: Invisible Fish by Susan F. Glassmeyer (Dos Madres Press). Many of you know of her project of sending out a poem and commentary each day during National Poetry Month.

And a bit ago, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer published Naked for Tea, from Able Muse Press. So many benefit from her astonishing project of sending out a new draft of a poem every single day. She’s been doing this for some ten or more years.

Again, I don’t mean to overlook any recent collections. So please let me know of any you would recommend. Lots of you have work published several months or years ago. I simply thought of this recently and had to start somewhere, so I decided to start with the past few weeks.

Fifth Annual Red Dock Reading
And now I’m nagging when YET AGAIN I say how good it would be to see you at The Red Dock on August 14 for the reading starting at 6:30 with the soul-warming presence of poet Laura Donnelly. Come early for the music that will begin a bit after 3pm. Bring your own comfortable chair. I promise that Laura’s work will settle into your heart.

And as Tony Amato, impresario of The Red Dock always says, “Peace, ta.”

 

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

 

 

Our Child

Over these many weeks time and again I have listened to parents talk about
the fear they have for their child or children. This fear is not one of the usual fears carried by any caring parent. This is a fear they not only never expected, but one they have no way of offering assurance should the child, too, be abused by the language and recklessness of 45.

I remember feeling helpless in the face of all the inevitable sufferings our daughter would face, staring at her asleep, wishing somehow I could give her the life and world she deserved. That wish has remained–and has amplified.

This past week poet Christine Rhein composed a poem in which she gathered notes written from the immigrants to their caged children. You can find it at Vox Populi.

Not meaning to lighten things inappropriately, but I just recalled that scene from Batman where The Joker laments the attention Batman receives in the Press. Here’s a paraphrase: “What kind of a world is it when a man dressed as the President of the United States gets all my press.”

Yes, what kind of a world is it, now?

Last evening, we were out to dinner. Once again we heard, “Each day I wake up wondering what he’s going to do now.”

Yesterday afternoon I worked with a mother who is putting together a collection of her mother’s poems. Her five-year-old played with our puppy, colored, looked for our shy cat, searched for the frogs around our little pond. We were all in a world we deserved to dwell in. And yet . . .

Our Child
You’re at school learning numbers
and the locations of various geographical
necessities. It’s what you do not know
that takes me to our window where
my sight attempts to rest along
the path our dog follows into the woods.

–Jack Ridl

From be tween (Dawn Valley Press)

Last week I typoed! A new and fascinating collection is Jennifer Clark’s Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman. You’ll be surprised.

Three other fine new collections: Kirk Wesphal’s Bodies of Wood and Water, Charlie Brice’s Mnemosyne’s Hand, and Richard Jones’s Stranger on Earth.

Please let me know of recent poetry collections that you would recommend. I don’t want to leave anyone out.

Annual Red Dock Reading
And once again! Please mark your calendars for August 14, 6:30 for The Fifth Annual Red Dock Reading created and sustained by the one and only Tony Amato. I can’t thank him sufficiently. The gently arresting Laura Donnelly will read from her award winning collection Watershed along with new poems. If the occasion echos the past, the dock fills quickly. So come early, bring a chair, enjoy the wonderful view, savor the food and drink, and be kind to Laura and me. It’s among the scariest times of the year for me/us.

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

The Revolution on Ward B

When I was a kid, maybe seven, and growing up in our church, we played a game called “Bible Baseball.”

You were tossed a pitch–a question. Answer correctly, you got a home run. Wrong, and you were out.

I was up at bat and in came the question: “How many sins did Jesus commit?” I said, “One.”

OUT!

As we were leaving, the minister took me aside and asked, “Why in the world, did you say Jesus committed a sin?!” I shrugged and said, “When he went to the temple, he didn’t tell his mom and dad where he was going.”

To this day, it seems a reasonable answer. What seems unreasonable is why that matters. In fact, by today’s miasma of morals, it looks to me as if the Jesus I know spent most of his time committing sins.

He didn’t want to found some religion. He was a Jew who saw his religion being misused. And he was a rebel who saw government full of corruption. And he saw the dominant values of the day in need of a revolution. Today 45 would be tweeting incessantly about this loser.

And Jesus was rather “Zen-ish.”  “The last shall be first.” Certainly as one opposed to hierarchies — be they of wealth, prestige, or evaluation — he was not reversing the order. Good heavens, that would have had everyone scrambling to be last (“Hey! I’m last. Get in FRONT of me!”).

He was clearly disordering the order.

Unlike under 45 where the “first” are always first in privilege, benefits, health, nourishment, housing, economic assurance, and-and-and, in Jesus’s unruly and un-ruled “kindom” the last shall/should be the first to be cared for.

The Revolution on Ward B

The rooms opened like gaps between a drunkard’s teeth.
In each, decaying, full of unneeded breath
crouched my cohorts in conspiracy.
We gathered like moths around our thoughts
amid the pillows, pills, and stacks of cards.
Away from those afraid to visit us,
we plotted, pricked the mind’s map,
set our pins strategically,
and prepared to charge full force
into the ambush of our past.

General Peterson led us against the sun.
He pulled the shades each morning,
never let the word get out. Joan
of Arkansas held matches with her toes,
lit them, yelling for supplies. Old
Mrs. Pinelli saved her food, sacked it
in her pillow, afraid we might run short.
Young Ben cried, said he didn’t want to die,
and hanged himself with his jump rope.
McBurney grabbed his penis and like Lancelot
charged the lobby shouting, “Viva la personalitie!”
I held the fort, a sentry watching
for a change of mind in us, a change
of heart in them. We were a ragged
mind against the mob.

We were the soldiers whose eyes cut corners.
We were the children’s crusade.
We were the catatonic Quakers.
We were the martyrs without a prayer.

With nothing to gain and less to lose
we revolted against their vision of our lives.
Our bombs rolled across our loved ones’ faces.
Our machine guns dittoed our only way out.
Our mines quivered in the commonplace: We
set them in the supermarket, underneath
the boss’s desk, under the grade book,
and on the putting green. “NUTS!”
we laughed when they’d demand surrender.
We’d never spill our brains for them.

They held with all they had:
Tiptoed down the corridor.
Smiled at our drills.
Turned the television up for Mr. Cobb.
Sent in ten cookies for the twelve of us.
Said our visitors were waiting in the hall.

We hollered, “NUTS!” till Peterson saw the moon.
Then shivering, nerves eating the air, morale
turning against us on its own, we wrapped
our feet in sheets and trudged back
across the snow without a flag.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Southern Poetry Review
Subsequently published in The Same Ghost (Dawn Valley Press)

ANNUAL RED DOCK READING
Coming up Tuesday, August 14 at 6:30pm: “The Fifth Annual Red Dock Reading,” under the direction of Tony Amato Productions with special guest Laura Donnelly who will calm the waters. Come early. Enjoy the atmosphere and the food and beverages. To assure yourself of a seat, bring a chair.

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

 

War Mother

The Attack on NATO — My father seldom talked about his experiences in WWII. As Captain of a black company he led his troops throughout Europe and then into the Philippines. My wife Julie’s father was a Naval officer, the Captain of a destroyer, monitoring atomic testing, heading to Cuba during the missile crisis. He was in charge of the Naval Station at Subic Bay in the Philippines during the Vietnam war. One of her brothers was a Top Gun flyer who watched his buddy crash into the ocean. Her other brother happened to be at a meeting when the plane hit his office at the Pentagon.

At home waited their mothers. This of course has not changed. One loved one at war, the other at home. This poem of course represents that time, when primarily men were in combat.

War Mother

For the months
she would wait.
She taught me “Daddy.”
“Daddy,” I would say
as she held me,
stroked my head.

By her chair
the radio, the shape
of a church’s chancel,
gave her all the news.
She’d sit and listen,
rock me as she’d hum.

when certain songs
came on, she’d
lift me,
dance me cheek to cheek
around the room.

–Jack Ridl

From Between (Dawn Valley Press)

Lots of good news! These remarkable friends and writers all have new work. All available at your local bookstores and online. What a joy to celebrate with them!

1. Mary McSchmidt’s Uncharted Waters: Romance, Adventure, and Advocacy on the Great Lakes
2. Reka Jellema’s collection This Living
3. Anna-Lisa Cox’s The Bone and Sinew of the Land
4. Jacqueline Carey’s Starless
6. Jennifer Clark’s Johnny Clark’s Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman

I would “review” these here, but I’d fall short of how important and heart-nourishing each title is.

For those of you close by, Anna-Lisa and Jacqueline will be reading and being with all of us at the Douglas Library, July 22nd at 2pm.

And self–promotion number one thousand: Laura Donnelly will be joining me at The Red Dock on August 14. Starting time is 6:30. Come have some joy.

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

The Same Ghost

A child said to his parents, “If we visit America, will I be put in a cage?”

It’s too late. But not too late to create a place where such a question never enters the mind of anyone. The children in cages will carry trauma for the rest of their lives unless health care for all becomes no longer an issue, but an act of compassion.

This week I had a conversation with a 15-year-old Hispanic boy. I asked if he knew any families whose children were separated from their parents. He said no. Paused. Then said, “My parents do.”

Our daughter has a French god-daughter, Mathilde, whose whole family has become part of ours. Mathilde sent a message this morning wishing us a Happy 4th. This sent from the nation that gave us Lady Liberty.

Our son-in-law restored an amphibious vehicle, one that landed on Normandy Beach. When the French family visited and saw it, for several minutes the mother and father stood beside it in silence.

We have made online fast friends with the Kraas family in Tübingen, Germany. Norbert writes weekly and alerted Christian Zaschke who wrote the piece about this blog  project in SZ. Christian has become a member of our hearts’ world. Many German citizens respond to this little blog. They often write disappointments and warnings.

And so today I write on Independence Day. Independence. Not individualism. Not Freedom. Not the pursuit of happiness, often a pursuit in vain. I wish Jefferson had written about the Pursuit of Joy, or In Dependence. We depend on one another. We create the worlds others live in.

And so on this In Dependence Day, may we metaphorically and in spirit, parade with one another everywhere. Sure it’s a dream. Not terribly different from the so-called Founding Fathers who wrote “WE the people,” not “I the person.”

And so, to the Famille Saunier, the Kraas family, my new German friends, Christian, and all of you, I send hope for the restoration of “We” and the implementation of care for all who care.

No, child, you won’t be put in a cage. Not so far.

The Same Ghost

It’s the Spring in my
back pocket; it’s the old coat; it’s
the way you put your fingers on your buttons,
give the wind a nod, give me
one small lesson. I’ll not take anything
away; we can start again: we can live
in water; we can fly. Let me
pile some stones in a corner
and we’ll stand in our own
pain until feathers grow on the wall.
We are not alone. Listen!
It’s the same ghost
bringing us prayers and touching
the evening with its tongue.
And the clouds are moving over another field.
–Jack Ridl

from The Same Ghost (Dawn Valley Press)

COMING UP

Meridith and Jack Workshop at Oxbow
There’s still time to sign up for the fun class that daughter Meridith and I

are leading at Ox-Bow next week. You’ll get to write what you want to
write and then do a visual piece in response to what your wrote. A kind of reverse ekphrastic! Just go to the Ox-Bow website or call Dulcee to register at 269-857-5811

Fifth Annual Red Dock Reading, Douglas, MI

And again, mark those calendars for the Fifth Annual “Reading at The Red Dock” with the delight-filled Laura Donnelly. On Tuesday, August 14, 6:30pm. Come early.Last year the place was jammed. If you come later, bring a chair!

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

My Father Gardening in Heaven

Last week in a workshop — actually more like a salon — that I was asked to lead eleven years ago, the poets brought poems in which they described their heaven. Among the many moving heavens created were several that included…

*an absence of gun violence.
*rights not labeled privileges.
*health care for all without regard to ability to pay.
*respect for and care of the natural world.
*children not separated from their parents at the border.
*religions that didn’t just welcome all, but affirmed all.

Well, you get the idea.

I could call this approach heaven on earth, but for the fact that many of us affirm that this is the way earth should be on earth.

My Father Gardening in Heaven

The flowers are no taller here.
The cosmos carry their saucers
of burgundy and white, the fuchsias
dangle their puckered blossoms
no farther down than they do on earth.
Every flower adds its promiscuity
of scent, its audacity of color
to the unencumbered hues of heaven. Here
my father imagines snow-on-the-mountain
spreading across the clouds, succulents
thriving in the fierce sunlight, bleeding
heart drooping in the perfect air. Here
there are no slugs peeling the leaves,
no aphids ravenous in a flower’s veins.
The days are bereft of drought, the nights
solicit no unwelcome frost. Once, my father,
sleeping under the apple blossoms,
began to dream of spider mites, leaf hoppers,
and lace bugs cutting across his every plant.
He woke up shaking and reaching for a spray.
Adam turned from his hoeing, smiled. Eve
waved out the window. My father nodded,
stood up, took his rake and pulled it gently
over the straight and narrow furrows
he had loosened in the soft, sweet loam.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville Review

Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

Please mark your calendars for the Fifth Annual “Reading at The Red Dock.”
Tuesday evening, August 14, 6:30pm. Come early, grab a seat.

This year’s guest poet is Laura Donnelly, winner of the Cider Press Review Editors’ Prize for her collection Watershed. This past year Laura was named The State University of New York/Oswego’s Outstanding Professor.

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

St. Francis in Disney World

God is love.

“Suffer the little children to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of God.”

Printed on the T-shirt I’m wearing is “Be the person your dog thinks you are.” It’s from Dog Tired Studio and Gallery owned by our Key West friend and artist Sean P. Callahan. Julie studied under him. You might enjoy visiting his website.

If 45 had a dog and if 45 is the person his dog thinks he is, that dog would think, “I know you would take my pups, overcrowd them in a cage, and then make sure to use the Bible to support you.”

I can hear Jeremiah. And poor Jesus.

St. Francis in Disney World 

The children come up to him, touch
his robe and giggle. He blesses them. They
run and ask their parents to take their photo
peeking out from behind his filthy holiness.
Mickey quietly comes up beside him, his
huge fingers dangling like loaves of Wonder
Bread, tilts his head as if to say you better
leave or take a bath and put on clean jeans.
St. Francis whispers, asking for the birds.
Mickey shakes his head. St. Francis holds
his place in line while each ride spins its
squealing riders round or up or down: a
chug, a plunge, a long and hopeless cast
of thousands, ton of hot dogs, fries, and
pizza, sushi, Coke and Pepsi, pie and
ice cream, chocolate. There are bees.
He has no ticket. He’s told to step aside. He
looks up where the sky should be. He
watches a cat slide under the plastic
elephant. He looks back up. The sky
has gone. The earth has gone. His feet
are sore. His hands are turning into
birds. His hood is filling up with coins.
His beard is filled with bells.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Dogwood

Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

 

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

 

I Am Wearing Your Shirt

On Tuesday night, 17 of us gathered at Bryan Uecker’s Book Nook and Java Shop in Montague, Michigan. Go there. You will enter the world as it should be: fine food, fine drinks, music, fascinating art objects, books of course, and overstuffed chairs, calming lighting, and such welcoming warmth.

This is a gift from Bryan to all those who hope to find a place where the soul finds respite.

We gathered for a workshop in which I try to offer a variety of approaches to writing that explores one’s personal history, the history that matters, the history that one is seldom encouraged to discover. There is memory, the wellspring of much of our lives. As Joy Harjo has so quietly said, “Memory alive. That’s what we are.” And there is memory that becomes a record of our history, meaning those experiences and those people who have had an impact on who we are.

During our evening a troubling discussion arose about how, all but daily, 45 by his coarse and caustic language distracts these writers from what deeply matters to them. Two and a half hours later, we left feeling re-connected to our own worlds, regretting that we needed a workshop to have this happen, and with hope that we can attend to political events that matter and somehow keep 45 from tearing us away from what creates the personal meaning in our days.

I Am Wearing Your Shirt
an elegy for my father

When your words left
your hands, the only place
silence holds us to the earth
opened.  Somewhere a child
opened a door.  Somewhere
a mother looked out a window.

You lived in your hands—alive
in bread dough, along the handles
of tools, holding the endless
usefulness of rags.  “In all
things, a firm grip,” you told me,
and at the end, you wanted only
your hands.

The snow that comes in the mornings
brings each of your words.  The water
forms around your and, your either, not
and yes.  They land, they just land.
Sometimes they fall all day, and into
the next.  Sometimes they melt before noon.

You never waited.  In the Spring,
you forced the shoots, even
the blooms.  The trays waited
on the coffee table, the refrigerator,
the floor of the family room. We gave
one to anyone who stopped. They
were gone by May.

Yesterday, I found a photograph.  I’m
sitting on your shoulders.  Or is it you
sitting on your father’s shoulders?  Or
is it your grandfather sitting
on his beer wagon, holding
his team of tired horses?

At the funeral, you walked through the house
collecting your garden tools, cookbooks, and
sweatshirts while each visitor laid the bud
of a rose on your chest.  They formed a heart
within the heart of your arms and folded hands.
I imagine them opening in your ashes.

Every morning for fifty-one years, you
woke and began by whispering, “This
is the best part of the day,” and laid
your arm across her back.

I am wearing your shirt.  Now,
when I walk, I wear your hat.  In
the garden, I wear your gloves.

Here the land is flat.  You
lived in the clay hills,
always at an angle.

Growing up on Goat Shit Hill,
looking out over the sullen
open hearths, the tired smoke
of the mills, the smudged strip
of heartless coal, you took shot
after shot at the hoop your father
rammed into the ridge behind
your house, knowing any miss
could send you down a mile
after the disrespected ball.

The house is cold now, cold
as Spring turning itself
into bloom.  We wait at the window.

You always stepped aside
to let every question have its way.

Your God wanted no attention at all.

Yesterday, when I dug into our garden’s
matted earth, I felt your hand slide
into mine as if it were putting on
a glove.  We went together
into the awkward ground, turned the soil,
let it slip between our fingers.

Where have you walked
in a year?  The center
of snow. . .  The center of
each amen. . . of every
word we’ve tried to keep.
Now, on this still April afternoon,
one more year to the day you
came to stay within us, the trees’
negative space waits for leaves.

And wearing your shirt, I look out into
the wood, where the end of each branch
touches the air’s one silence.

How you loved this dust, this
light on the side of the house.

–Jack Ridl

First published in the New Poems from the Third Coast, Contemporary Michigan Poetry (Wayne State University Press)
Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!