But He Loved His Dog

24 million will lose their health care unless some in congress have a backbone and a twitch of caring for those they are sworn to care for.

When our daughter, Meridith, was living in France for a year on a Watson Fellowship to paint in the footsteps of Cezanne, she was struck by a hit-and-run motorcyclist and was taken immediately into surgery for critical head injuries: no paper work, no questions, no nothing but care, excellent care. When we arrived, we were told not to worry about any financial concerns. “We are here to take care of your child.” Total cost: $25 dollars. She continues to paint in the footsteps of Cezanne.

Coda: When Meridith first visited Cezanne’s studio in Aix en Provence, the curator was struck by Mimi’s awe and asked her to return in a couple days to talk. (Incidentally, there were no ropes to keep visitors away from everything: his bag, brushes, easel, everything.) When Mimi returned to her apartment we asked her about her talk. “She gave me a key and told me to come anytime to do my painting in the studio.”

24 million. Ropes to keep us away from everything. Get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts. Take a selfie with your microwave. Now as pass by those such as this man, I wonder . . .

 

But He Loved His Dog

Wednesday was trash day so he pulled
the garbage can to the curb. There
was never that much in it. Sometimes
he stood there for a few minutes, looking
down when a car drove by, looking up
at the trees in the yard across the street.

No one really knew if he knew anyone.
He had a dog. It wasn’t much of a dog.
It was an old dog, a mix too mixed
to know what all might be there. He
told someone once, “Oh I suppose
there has to be some beagle, maybe
some German shepherd.” Each noon
he walked the dog down to the corner,
left on Maple Avenue, three blocks
to the park where they would stop and

he would sit on a bench under a Beech
that had been hollowing out for years.
The dog lay at his feet, once in a while
lifted its head and sniffed. He never read
or talked except to say, “What do you
think of this day, boy?” and the dog
would wag its tail across the gravel path.

He would sit for most of the afternoon,
then tug on the dog’s leash and they
would walk on through the park, then
back home. He would bring in the mail,
toss it away. When the evening’s light
began drawing its shadow across his porch,
he would turn on the radio, open a window,
and sit outside, with his dog, listening
to the classical music station and the cicadas.

–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!

Hands

We are all carrying empathy and sympathy for everyone broken by the vicious treatment of those of us who carry the misapplied label “illegal immigrant.” For instance, close by here a beloved family’s door was broken down, an undocumented worker arrested, and the family torn apart, four young daughters and their parents traumatized forever.
My father’s family came from Bohemia. Ridl should be spelled Hridl, but we became Americans on Ellis Island at a time when renaming was a matter of course. Through the world of my grandfather I hope this week’s poem respects and affirms our immigrant companions, and I trust in one way or another many of your relatives, too.

It was a joy this week to learn from dear former student and art therapist Maggie Machledt that Parker Palmer’s column at Krista Tippett’s “On Being” website featured this week’s poem. Coincidences like this never fail to astonish me.
Palmer has been a restorer of souls for so many of us, as well as a man who has sustained our ways of being in teaching, spiritual communities, the arts, compassionate relationships, and the ways we walk through our days.

This poem will also appear in an important, new anthology: Immigration & Justice for Our Neighbors edited by Jennifer Clark and Miriam Downey.
My thanks to Maggie, Parker Palmer, Krista Tippett, and to you who, knowing it or not, have an abiding friend in Palmer.

Here’s the poem, and here is Palmer’s column.
PS. It’s time I remind one and all (and put in tiny words my gratitude) that this project could never happen each week without Julie’s loving expertise and affirmation. 

 

Hands
My grandfather grew up holding rags,
pounding his fist into the pocket
of a ball glove, gripping a plumb line
for his father who built what anyone
needed. At sixteen, wanting to work on
his own, he lied about his age
and for forty-nine years carried his lunch
to the assembly line where he stood
tightening bolts on air brake after
air brake along the monotonous belt.
I once asked him how he did that all
those years. He looked at me, said,
“I don’t understand. It was only
eight hours a day,” then closed
his fists. Every night after dinner
and a pilsner, he worked some more.
In the summer, he’d turn the clay,
grow tomatoes, turnips, peas,
and potatoes behind borders
of bluebells and English daisies,
and marigolds to keep away the rabbits.
When the weather turned to frost,
he went to the basement where,
until the seeds came in March,
he made perfect picture frames, each
glistening with layers of sweet shellac.
His hands were never bored. Even
in his last years, arthritis locking every
knuckle, he sat in the kitchen carving
wooden houses you could set on a shelf,
one after another, each one different.

–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!

Blue Sky Over Key West

Welcome to Key West, where we are on our little houseboat soaking up lots of lack of inhibition. Several years ago Key West seceded from the U.S., for a moment, anyway, establishing itself as The Conch Republic, the flag of which flies high still around town. If you’ve been troubled by and since the election, come on down. While the T-Word’s T-shirts and hats sell well, and ironically, at The Little Truman White House here, this fashion statement is one not seen on the locals. Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Idea of Order at Key West” remains such, merely an idea. There ain’t much order here. Drop your repressions at Mile Marker One.

Our pier in the city marina, Marlin Pier, is home to a gaggle of joy-filled, caring souls ranging in age from 12 to 90. Vocations and passions include artists, jewelry makers, CSI retirees, fireworks entrepreneurs, horticulturists, teachers of the year in science, blues singers, rock musicians, ice cream shop owners, government workers, sea captains, a Welsh screen writer, eight dogs, day laborers, former Pentagon photographers, knitters, actors, an adventurer who has survived three avalanches, shop owners, charter fishing captains, gourmet chefs on tour boats, and us. It’s the best assisted living set-up in the world: If “Jane isn’t up and out on the pier by ten, we check on her.”

When we arrived on Friday and headed down the pier, we were hugged and kissed and welcomed with the warmth usually offered those who have returned from outer space. Well . . .

“Don’t just do something, sit there!” Come recover for a bit. Just remember that this is a place where on Sabbath morning the parking lot used by the parishioners of the Unity Church is the one owned by the Bare Assets Nightclub.

This week’s poem…

Blue Sky Over Key West

Sometimes when we stand in the loss
of it all, surrounded by what we will never

be, the sky seems to be just fine. It’s blue.
It’s many shades of blue. And it’s there

and will be when we join the landscape
of the invisible. Clouds cross, none ever

the same. And that’s when we realize again
that there actually is no sky, just another

anonymous unknown we are sure we see.
When our dog steps out onto the deck of

our little houseboat bobbing on the nameless
blue-green of this bight and lifts his nose into

the gull-crossed and sea-soaked breeze,
does he see our sky? I like to suppose

he does. Though most likely it’s something
his gentle nose has brought for only him to view.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville 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!

After Hearing the Professor Say, “She’s Just An Average Student.”

In a week where those of us who care deeply about the experiences and values found in our schools have been ignored, shaken, set aside like an old blackboard, I send this poem. During my years with students I watched the damages when standards usurped education and were deemed more important than each person, when accomplishment diminished giving students the richness they deserved to have as a central part of the rest of their lives.

After Hearing the Professor Say, “She’s Just An Average Student.”

How great never to be that bully
excellent. Not even the bland
and shy acolyte good. Average,
simply average like all the robins,

jays, junkos, chickadees. Even
wood ducks, those charmingly
helmeted harlequins who never
arrive without floating a surprise

over any creek or pond, are average
when it comes to wood ducks.
Elephants unless they rival the heft
and height of Jumbo are, well, average

elephants. Experts, of course, determine
what is above average, whether elephant
or student, while trillium, sweet woodruff,
owls, moles, golden rod, and thyme hold

to the way they became. They cannot rise
to the rigor of demand or slough off into
a lower caste. Those who know say
wedding veil is indeed an excellent vine,

argue its worth over, say, honeysuckle.
But wedding veil is always wedding veil.
Wisteria is wisteria just as, let’s say kudzu
is kudzu, the former cascading its blossoms

down and through a pergola, the latter climbing
and twisting its way around a tree’s trunk
and on into its branches. So, for all I know,
I am an average coffee drinker spending

an average early morning watching
an average squirrel searching for
average acorns in our average yard,
readying for yet another average winter.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Chariton 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!

After Another Massacre

A couple of weeks ago, the posted poem was “Keeping On,” the one where the fellow plants spoons. I’ve been asked, “Why spoons?” For me there were several reasons. For the fellow in the poem, spoons catch and reflect the light, and they never waver from their “spoon-ness.” Spons also are used to nourish, to feed another, are readily taken for granted and overlooked, have a certain humbleness, can be used to lift and dig and carry, come in a variety of types and styles and uses. Friends are sticking spoons in their gardens like the man in the poem. I encourage each of you stick a spoon or two out where you can see it every day. Ours greet us just outside the door. It’s all but impossible for us to see them without being reminded of their light and purpose. They make us smile.

I’ve also been asked “Why Thursday for sending the poem?” Seems to me that the other days of the week are associated with something. Wednesday is “get over the hump day,” the middle of the week time. Friday is, of course, TGIF. And there sits Thursday with nothing much to show for it.

I don’t recall a week where the political world has pressed so heavily on so many hearts. And so this week’s poem…

After Another Massacre

Night comes even
with evening.

Our cat lies
purring,
a supplication.

We will say
a prayer
for the cold rain,

for the trees
going skeletal.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Talking River

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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!

Let Comfort Come

“Sticks and stones may break our bones.” Bones can heal. Words can too,  and they also cause lasting harm.

 

Let Comfort Come

Form is the quiet. We read
while form stays still
and waits. The words sing

or speak, clammer on or say
or tell or even sometimes step
aside and hope we wander in.

Everywhere within the form
of letter, word, space, structure
rests the hush around the hurry,

the opening wherein any form —
table, door, the lover’s arm and
tongue, the cat asleep on the sill—

lies the quiet, the shawl around
us all who have to clatter
through. Let it be the nothing of not.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Colorado 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!

 

Chamber Musicians Also Wash the Dishes, Check the Mail

The mystery of music. This time of year it surrounds us. But then again it can always surround us. Let’s let it.

 

Chamber Musicians also Wash the Dishes, Check the Mail

But now the chamber musicians are
just past halfway in Glazunov’s Elegy,

the part where in rehearsal they stopped.
“It feels as if I’m behind.” “I don’t think

so. I think I’m ahead.” When I listened
all I heard was a whole note held

in the third movement of a symphony
by Tinnitus, all I felt was the wax waning

onto the timpani of my ear drum.
Next comes another elegy, this by Suk,

Suk who was fifteen when he wrote its
sorrow-filled walk through what he did

not yet know. The chamber musicians
know. They carry elegy in their fingers.

They open the world on the other side
of every note and let us breathe

within the haunting space between each
touch of key and pull of bow. They believe

heaven is between the stars, music
in the empty sleeve of the one-armed man.

–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!

The Materialism of Angels

During this season, I hope these angels bring you comfort and joy. That’s their job!

Here’s some joy in our household.  I learned yesterday that that the first poem I sent you, “While the Dog Sleeps,” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Louisville Review.  So good of them to do that. And so we’ll go through the winter with our fingers crossed…

The Materialism of Angels

“Who would say that pleasure is not useful?”—Charles Eames

Of course the angels dance. If not
on the head of a pin, then maybe
on the boardwalk along the ocean of stars.
And they eat hot and spicy: salsa,
tabasco, red peppers. They love
mangoes. They can munch
for hours on cashews. Olives
sit in bronze bowls on the cherry
tables next to their canopy beds
where the solace of pillows swallows
their sweet heads and the quiet
of silk lies across their happy backs.
They know the altruism of material things.
They want to say to us, “We’ll sleep
next to you. Feel our soft and unimposing
flutter across your shoulders, on your
heartbroken feet.” They want us
to take, eat, to smell the wood,
run our tired fingers over the rim of
every glass, give our eyes the chance
to see the way the metal bends and
curves its way into the black oval
of the chair. They want us to feel
the holiness of scratching where it
itches, rubbing where it hurts. They
want us to take long, steamy showers
and a nap. They know how easily
we follow directions: hook the red wire
to the front of the furnace, fill in only
the top half of the life insurance form.
They have no manuals for joy.
They can’t fix anything we break.
They wonder why we never laugh
enough, why we don’t know God
is crazy for deep massage, and loves
to wail on an alto sax whenever they dance.

–Jack Ridl

from Broken Symmetry (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!

 😇

Dombrowski

 

It’s the day after reading with my former student Chris Dombrowski at Horizon Books in Traverse City. I asked Chris to read first because, as I told the audience, “I wanted Chris to read first, because then you might be thinking what an amazing teacher I am. If I read first, after Chris, you would be thinking, “Well, he most certainly must have learned in spite of his professor.”

On April 3, at the former Literary Life building, 758 Wealthy in Grand Rapids,  I’ll get to give another reading with Chris Dombrowski. Chris will be reading from his new collection, Earth Again, from Wayne State University Press. I’ll be reading a few poems from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron, also from Wayne. Yes, Chris and I have collections out at the very same time from the very same press.

Okay, yeah, for nearly 40 years I’ve given readings. What’s another one? As William Stafford said in reply to one of my students asking him if he was nervous before a reading, “Oh no. Not at all… Resigned.” Well, with these readings, I am nervous and joyful because Chris is a former student. I wonder if, unless you are a teacher, you can fully feel, understand, what it means to be up there reading with someone who was 18 when you first met in a classroom. Teachers are fond of saying that they learn more from their students than their students learn from them.

What did I learn from Chris? I learned how to work with Chris. When he came to the college he was already knowledgeable about the artistry of composing a poem. He already knew the work of a remarkable range of poets. What was there for me to offer him? I brooded. And then I realized that, of course, the best thing I could do was stay out of his way, be an attentive reader for him, and kick him back on track if he started being unknowingly disloyal to his vision.

So can you imagine what it was like for me to open this year’s catalogue from the Press and see on facing pages Chris’s collection and mine. I wonder if there is any teacher out there who has had this happen? If you know, let me know.

Several times with the launch of our books, Chris and I will share the podium. I won’t go sappy here about this (too late?), but I feel as sappy as any proud “Uncle Lou.”

One other time I was invited by a former student to read with her. Sally Smits, who was teaching at the Indiana University campus in South Bend asked me to “share the stage.”  I had no idea how much it would come to mean to me. Quite a lot, it turns out.

Jack on the Interwebs

Hi folks, Julie here. Jack’s been enjoying a flurry of interviews lately. A couple are out on the interwebs. A couple on their way in lovely magazines. We’ll keep you posted. Here are two:

This amazing blog, if you don’t know it already, is one you can fall into and wander in for hours, days, weeks. Amazing gift to writers and artists of all kinds:

http://howapoemhappens.blogspot.com/2010/07/jack-ridl.html

And this one, a former student of Jack’s. A lovely guy. A writer who teaches writing, talking to writers. Again, giving us all wonderful stuff to chew on. (His latest interview of dear Li-Young Lee, is a gem. Really captures him.)

http://www.writersonprocess.com/2010/06/interview-with-a-writer-poet-jack-ridl.html