Prayer on a Morning My Car Wouldn’t Start

Every day more petitions to sign, (I first typed “to sigh.”), more meetings, more good caring people doing all they can, more information that sinks the soul, more cruelty, more letters to write, calls to make. Let alone dinner.

Within it all, our own lives deserve attention: our friends who are carrying burdens too heavy for them alone to lug, our own. And then along come the unexpected situations that we simply have to take care of, and we try to think of them as small in comparison, but dammit, they do us in–the straws that break our own backs.

Over the weekend our washing machine broke down! AND WITH LAUNDRY SOAKING IN IT! AND WE COULDN’T OPEN THE DAMN DOOR TO GET IT OUT AND SO WE JUST KNEW THAT IT WOULD START GROWING SOME FUNGUS THAT WOULD THEN TAKE OVER THE HOUSE AND WE WOULD NEVER BE ABLE TO LIVE HERE EVER AGAIN!

Then on Monday Mary Jo and Craig and Bob said, “We’ll be right over.” And they repaired the machine and the laundry was saved and we calmed. Ain’t that the way!

Here’s a poem/prayer/plea/lament for such times–

Prayer on a Morning My Car Wouldn’t Start

I sit behind the wheel
and finger the keys
like a rosary. Surely

there is some prayer
that can move pistons.
If spirits slaughter germs, or

bring about a sudden burst
of hope or courage, even love,
why not something simple,

something closer to expedience?
Why not dispatch one lonely angel
to caress my carburetor, fix

my fan belt, unclog my fuel line?
Just one greasy-winged mechanic,
inept at saving souls, but damned

good at getting me on my way.

–Jack Ridl

First published in the Laurel Review
Subsequently in The Same Ghost (Dawn Valley Press) (Out of print, but don’t let the used-book tag scare you to pieces, these poems will be collected or reprinted elsewhere soonly!)
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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!

Love Poem

Witnessing cruelty as accepted, supported, justified, encouraged can become an ironic weapon turning inward on ourselves, wounding our own fortitude, subtly eroding our resistance. At times, while standing firm against the inhumane, it’s our loyalty to the easily set aside that can hold us together. What can seem inconsequential can actually be what very often keeps us connected, seamless in our humanity. This love poem, I hope, reaches beyond the singular situation and suggests that whatever creates a common care is anything but trivial.

 Love Poem
“[He] makes the smallest talk I’ve ever heard.”
                                         –John Woods

The smaller the talk the better.
I want to sit with you and have us
Solemnly delight in dust; and one violet;
And our fourth night out;
And buttonholes.  I want us
To spend hours counting dog hairs,
And looking up who hit .240
in each of the last ten years.
I want to talk about the weather;
And detergents; and carburetors;
And debate which pie our mothers made
The best.  I want us to shrivel
Into nuthatches, realize the metaphysics
Of crossword puzzles, wait for the next
Sports season, and turn into sleep
Holding each others favorite flower,
Day, color, record, playing card.
When we wake, I want us to begin again
Never saying anything more lovely than garage door.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Georgia Review
Collected in The Same Ghost
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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!

Elegy for Cousin Albert – a Circus Man

So many things we didn’t know were problematic turn out to be.

Recently Ringling Bros. announced their day is over. The Big Apple Circus closed.
I grew up with the circus. My mother had a cousin who was as close to her as a brother. He traveled all over with circuses, knew them all, knew everyone. I, of course, didn’t have any idea that it was a big deal to “hang out” with Emmett Kelly, Lou Jacobs, The Wallendas, Clyde Beatty, Unus, who stood on one finger. They were people in the back lot readying to go on. Then one day we watched Ringling unload their tent for the very last time. That was the first loss. From then on for me, a circus without a tent was not quite a circus.

I understand why it’s gone. A few will try to stagger along. But . . .

Elegy for Cousin Albert—A Circus Man

If you knew you were going to be taken in,
you were part of the great act, and all
the richer for your willingness
to suspend belief for the higher world
of jungle cats, exhausted jugglers,
jaded clowns, those who left their losses
in the back lot and paraded center ring
for seven months to lead us on—
to be performers while we sat.
We knew the fat came off the drunk
and drug-infested fly-by night
hard work of broken men
who’d pitch the tent then wait
throughout the show until
beneath the same old stars
they’d watch the dusty bull
pull down the center pole, bellow
to the night, and lumber out from
underneath the canvas floating down,
a shroud to lie, quiet, over the empty
lot. Later, housed twenty to a truck,
the men would sleep.
Somewhere,
on the road, Albert, now ashes
in his widow’s living room,
would think about the time when he
was six and rode the Ringling elephant.
God sears the heart with a single twinge.
Now the loss, the grief is just another line
of colored posters strung along the sideshow
urging us to pay to see Alice wrapped
in tattoos, Johnny Jungle eating bugs,
The Human Reptile, Alphonse tasting
fire, Erma swallowing swords, and
all of us who charm the snakes.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Journal (Ohio State)

 

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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!

Speaking of Alternative Facts…

 An experiment: after reading today’s poem, try the instruction that follows the citations.

 

Against Elegies
I’m tired of Death’s allure,
of how the old beggar
makes me think that
rowing across the river is
somehow richer, more serious, than
the center of a pomegranate or my
dog’s way of sleeping on his paws.
I’m tired of ”the beauty of the elegy,”
the tone deaf lyricism of it all. I
want Death to listen for awhile
to Bud Powell or Art Blakey,
to have to stare for seven hours
at Matisse. I want him to do
standup and play the banjo, to
have to tap-dance and juggle, to
play Trivial Pursuit and weed
my garden. I’m tired of how Death
throws his voice, gets us
to judge a begonia, a song
in the shower, a voice, old dog.
I want life’s ragged way
of getting along, the wasted
afternoon and empty morning, the
sloppy kiss. I want to stagger
along between innings. I want
the burnt toast, the forgotten note,
and the lost pillow case, the dime
novel, and the Silly Putty of it all.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Poetry.
Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

 >>EXPERIMENT INSTRUCTION: Read the poem again substituting Trump for Death.<<

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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!

Keeping On

Tomorrow, Friday, inaugurates an uncertain future, one where, as of now, what we care about and many we care about will be affected in destructive ways. This week’s poem tries to offer what we can hold to.

Keeping On

But of course he couldn’t decide.
One thing always led to another.
Like the way the lady drove down the street.
No, more like the way the dog . . .
Well, whatever it was, it was
not nearly as traumatic as the way
the man two blocks over . . .
or was it yesterday’s mail? He was
lost, or so it seemed, until he learned
to plant onions amid the hollyhocks
and realized that sticking spoons
in one part of the garden attracted moonlight
long after the flowers had faded. And so,
he bought a hundred more spoons and
arranged them throughout the flowers.
He watered them. And watched them
stay the same. And let them
take the moonlight. And one day he realized
he’d forgotten about the lady
and the way the dog and the man two blocks
over and the mail. He found himself
smiling as he sprinkled the spoons.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Texas Observer
Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

“Keeping On” is not a suggestion to avoid the T-word. The governing image is the watering of the spoons — to care for that which creates light without fading.
Peace,
Jack

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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!

Meditation on a Photograph of a Man Jumping a Huge Puddle in the Rain

As we head into what’s called the new year, for many of us it will mean more intense and unwarranted distraction from what we deserve to have matter to us. I’m thinking of what it could mean to jump a puddle.

Meditation on a Photograph of a Man Jumping a Huge Puddle in the Rain

The time: then. The spirit: always.
And the rain: now. Sometimes

the day will leave
something behind—what ?—
something

between our toes
or under our last words at night.

We might say, “Let’s go ahead,”
and we do. We leap. And the eyes
watching from

the corners and doorways
go on to what stays the same.

For now, we
are different. You
and I. And the rain

and time and the spinning
world.

–Jack Ridl

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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!

Practicing Chinese Ink Drawing

Sometimes when it seems bleak out there, it can be helpful to see what black branches can bring. This week’s poem, below, arrived out from that seeing.

For a fine example of what three black ink lines accompanied by three written lines can do, I encourage you to look for Even Now, a collection by artist Jill Sabella and poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. The book is from Lithic Press, whose purpose is to publish “fine books for an old planet.”

Rosemerry will be giving a reading here in Saugatuck/Douglas, Michigan, at Roan & Black Gallery on June 23, 7pm, where you can right now find and purchase the lovely book/gift while their supplies last.

Practicing Chinese Ink Drawing

Outside this window
the trees
are black-branched,
covered
by an overnight
fall of snow.
Everything is still,
no wind,
no wind on its way,
and the sky—deep
blue, vague
behind a gray
scrim, mimics
the stillness
of this snow
while
my brush strokes
carry the feel
of listless
luck–languid
and precise
as the single file
tracks the trio
of toms trailed
this morning
into the woods
whose branches
and snow
and light
cannot be drawn.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Georgia Review

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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!

It’s a Question of Prayer

Some 40 years ago at a college reading I said that there is another way to read W. H. Auden’s infamous quote “Poetry makes nothing happen.” And that is that poetry, like most everything we create, takes what is nothing (not a thing) and makes it into something that happens, primarily in the human heart. I was told after that reading by several faculty members that I was, well, wrong and that I had twisted things “quite a bit.”

And I’ve stood corrected ever since. Then this week the bright light of a poet, Laura Donnelly, emailed an essay that suggests that Auden did in fact mean that poetry takes the “silence” that surrounds us, mixes it with language and does make something truly happen.

Needless to say, I am heartened by that. And I’m gonna expand that idea to apply to most all we do. At this precarious time, we need to hold fast to the fact that each of us can make “nothing” happen.

Think about it: you take a bunch of ingredients and put ’em together and out comes holiday pastries. You are with another, and out of that quiet you create a conversation that would not be there without you. I admit to being startled by the responsibility that comes with “making nothing happen.” With that, here’s this Thursday’s poem with the hope that it can enter your concerned heart and find a comforting place there.

It’s a Question of Prayer

Monks know we can be one

with what has no
words, no name, not even a murmur.

There we meet the modesty
of presence: It could be green,

slow, tattered, cold, alone
as a possum

crossing a backroad.
It’s the touch

of the still. Prayer
is a place where we are

always
allowed in.

We are Amen, Shalom, Namaste.

Our where, there, here,
our forgotten habitat of yes.

We become sigh, our “I”
the wisteria vine in the rain,

the wet dog,
the house sparrow

nesting in the stillness of brown.

–Jack Ridl

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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!

A Christmas List for Santa

“The [person] who refuses sentiment refuses the full spectrum of human behavior, and then just dries up. … I would rather give full vent to all human loves and disappointments, and take a chance on being corny, than die a smartass.” — Jim Harrison

 

A Christmas List for Santa

A Wednesday afternoon with no thoughts of Thursday

Three weeks in the woods, two by myself, one with my father

My father

Cups of tea, plates for sugar cookies, the first ones I ever made, the dough still sticking to my fingertips

Comic books from the late ‘40s: Little Lulu, The Green Hornet, Felix the Cat

Every creek from the upper peninsula of Michigan

The last page from twenty unpublished novels

The ease of a dog’s sleep

Five gold rings

A moon-draped evening among the birds in the hemlocks

Any snow-covered pile of leaves

Photographs, I don’t care how many, of my daughter just before she smiles
for the camera

Seven moments with the lucidity of cutting yourself with a bread knife

Whatever happens between what happens

The liturgy of an old monk laughing

–Jack Ridl

from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)

 

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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!

When a Quiet Comes

My thanks for each of you pilgrims on
this Thanksgiving Day and in every day.

 

When a Quiet Comes

Sometimes when the morning surrounds 7am,
a quiet comes. A neighbor wakes, lets out
the dog, fills the songbird feeder. Often

a jogger goes by. Mostly there is the quiet.
There is a pot of coffee. Here in this house
there is a cat who seems to take the day’s

oncoming disappointments and hold them
in her purr. The mind almost shuts down.
The garden’s tapestry of buds and blooms

waits for not a thing. There is this quiet,
this way the day has of being where
we belong. At precisely 7:45 the bells

of St. Peter’s will send an old hymn into
the quiet and we who are still pilgrims
will soon walk our way into another day.

–Jack Ridl

The Louisville Review, 2015

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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!