The Poet at Seventy-Two

Our little houseboat in Key West suffered some damage so Julie is there for a week doing repairs.

So while Julie manages the repairs in heat that feels like 103, I walk the dogs. 

Perhaps a laugh or two would be good, so here’s a poem that tries to keep things afloat.

The Poet at Seventy-Two

The poems follow me, biting
my ankles as I limp my way
through Dante’s dark wood praying

the path will end where Beatrice holds
an elegant sign proclaiming, “Welcome!”
The poems gnaw and nip and jeer, “You

mixed a metaphor in mine about
the old car and the kangaroo!”
“You had four comma splices

in that last collection!” And “Why
in God’s name did you give me
that inane title!” I mumble

that I never knew what I was doing,
each synapse but a radio tube without
a wave. They shout, “No rationales”

and nibble toward my knees. I blame
Roget. They shrug. They roll their eyes.
“You’ve written your last lyric meditation

on a dog. No more dogs!” I lurch
toward Beatrice, see her wave,
her smile, her held-high sign—

“Welcome, Billy Collins!” The poems
howl, guffaw, giggle, sneer, and snicker.
“But Beatrice! I used assonance,

alliteration, made every line break
on the very perfect word. Her smirk
is luminous. I turn, and enjambing

on the poems, snarl, “You wouldn’t
even be if I could pound a nail straight,
balance a check book, change a tire,

wire a goddamn entertainment center!”

—Jack Ridl



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


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Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.


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

Whoops.

Unfortunately there was a smooshing together of two different subjects in the latest post. I did not mean to have the care/not care comment and the thank you to those who checked in on us be together. We of course know that millions of people we’re caring in many many ways, and that friends were caring who were concerned about taking our attention. The reference to “not caring” was meant to refer to those who were exploiting the disaster. Having friends who are dealing with the storm we too keep trying to figure out whether or not to contact them or trust they know we care.I regret that I didn’t check that copy to catch that misleading construction. And I called myself an English teacher!

Fourth Annual Reading at the Red Dock

You know that poetry reading on the water in Saugatuck? No? The one that started as an experiment, became a sensation, and is now a tradition? Well, it’s back.

Announcing the Fourth Annual Reading at the Red Dock with Jack Ridl, and this year featuring… all the way from Moveen, Ireland… beloved poet Thomas Lynch.

DATE: The Red Dock reading is always on the second Tuesday in August. Set your calendars on repeat! This year, that means AUGUST 8

TIME: 6PM, with music starting hours beforehand.

WHERE: The Red Dock, the chillingest, laid-backest, best water-living, sun soaking joint in Saugatuck/Douglas. Find it where the Keewatin used to be parked. If that doesn’t make sense, then set your GPS to 219 N Union St, Douglas, MI 49406. Or put another way, it’s just past the Saugatuck-Douglas bridge, on the Douglas side, on the harbor. Park in the big lot, walk down the pier by the boat ramp.

PRO TIP: For this reading, come early, because once the dock is full, it’s full. And this reading usually fills the dock. Also, you just might want a folding chair in your trunk, just in case. Also, dress is extraordinarily casual. You do need shoes. Possibly also a shirt, because it’s a restaurant, and there are just a few rules. Not many.

About Thomas:  Thomas Lynch is known throughout the States and Europe for his poetry, prose, documentary films, lectures, commentaries, interviews, features on PBS, NPR, the BBC. His THE UNDERTAKING was made into a Frontline feature and he was featured guest on Bill Moyers’s On Our Own Terms, MSNBC, the Today Show. His work has been published in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Times of London, The New Yorker, The Paris Review. He has published five collections of poetry, four of essays, a collection of short stories, and memoirs. Thomas makes his home in the family’s ancestral cottage in Moveen, County Clare, Ireland and in Milford, Michigan where he has been the funeral director since 1974. He brings a rich sense of humor and poignant depth to all he does, to everyone he is with.

Seriously, get there early to secure a seat, have a meal, a drink, a conversation, a good listen to the good music.

You know how good it is to see you there and for all of us to be with one another.

Deepest thanks to owner Tony Amato who makes the magic happen, and his warm-hearted staff who make us all feel at home at this touch of Key West in the Midwest.

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!