Broken Symmetry

This week’s New Yorker cover: 45 is wearing a coronavirus mask, but it’s covering his eyes.

This morning I said to Julie, I can’t think of a thing to write this week.
So off I went into the day, thinking maybe something will come to me.

I washed Vivi-the-dog’s water dish and filled it with fresh water, nice and cold.
I put some of our favorite clothes into the washer.
Patted Vivi. Scratched her butt. She loves that.
Scratched cat Hattie behind her ears.
During the night I awoke to discover Vivi between Julie and me, and Hattie snuggled up beside me.
I made the bed. I usually trip over the three or four pillows Julie has dropped on her side.
I laughed at the Laurel and Hardy bed-making bit: “Now we’re getting somewhere!” We have some beautiful pillows that dance off the colorscape by Del Michel. Every morning they cheer me.
I “turned on” both fireplaces, watched the flames flicker.
In the room we call the cottage, I watched the zany squirrels and the
wonderful variety of birds come to the feeder.
Looking out that window and into the woods I thought of two dear friends who were having surgery that day.
I made the coffee, waiting for the little whistle telling me the water was ready to pour over the beans I’d ground.
Then Julie and I sat before the “fire” and sipped and savored. Vivi curled up with us, Hattie somewhere.
Julie checked her phone for any news I needed to know. I checked mine for any poems that her heart might need.
After an hour, a friend came. We meet once each week for a couple hours for conversations that you would enjoy, and to explore the poem he wrote that week…
As we sat there in the “cottage,” a goldfinch flew against the large window that looks out to the feeders and into the woods. That majestic patch of color landed on the ground and didn’t move.
We went out to carry the finch into the woods to bury her.
I turned her over, lifted a wing that was tucked beneath her stomach. Her head moved. Moved again. And then she flew off into the woods, stopped on a branch and seemed to look back.

Again I was reminded that what matters is every day that is, was, and will be.

Broken Symmetry

Angels never have to worry
about their wings: lose a feather here
or there, a new perfection floats down

across the landscape, catching itself
on its cousin the tree branch, landing
on its second cousin the leaf, or even

along its third cousin twice removed,
the blacktop highway. There is so much
symmetry that in the mirror your left

side resembles your left side even though
it’s never quite the same as your
right. Go deeper. All the cells split

into identical ice dancers, all
the electrons spin the same bacchanal.
Only the broken reveals, gives

the universe its chance at being
interesting, says a door is not
an elephant, the moon is not a

salad fork. So, break the bread
in two, drink half the glass of wine,
slice the baby down the middle, cut

the corner, divide the time. Tonight
the moon will once again reflect the sun’s
monotonous dazzle, and the old light

making its dumb way to us, will break
our symmetry of coming home,
of passing on the street.

–Jack Ridl

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

Don’t forget to check out D.R. James’Flip Requiem with cover by Meridith Ridl. Find it at your bookstore, or order from the publisher Dos Madres Press, Inc.

At last, the reading at The BookNook & Java Shop in Montague has been set for 7pm on April 28, when I’ll be joined by friend and poet Mark Hiskes. I guarantee you will love the place along with its good food and beverages. Many thanks to owner and arts promoter Bryan Uecker.

Jack’s Homily, “The Devil Went Down to Douglas” is here for those of you interested in marking the occasion.

Don’t miss subscribing to this podcast.  And Then Suddenly is the brainchild of the kind and brilliant Angela Santillo, whose path I’ve crossed once before while working with CavanKerry Press. Her podcast has a brilliant premise…  Describe a moment in your life that changed… everything. She’s had that moment, and from it she has made this podcast. Here’s the conversation we had recently.  I hope you explore many of the episodes. Because they will change you. In a good way.

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

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.

Jack on And Then Suddenly podcast by Angela Santillo.

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

Michael Steinberg Made the World Better

Hi folks. Julie here. We are early this week. It’s a hard day, and we needed to talk about it…

Carole just wrote to us. Michael has died. We are staggered. We are staggered the way we are all staggered, trying to imagine the world without our loved ones in it. It’s unimaginable. And it should be, really. Hard to fathom. Anything less would say so little about the life. We should all aim to leave a hole in the world that staggers people.

Michael Steinberg.


Many thousands of writers and readers could walk arm-in-arm through the hole Mike has left us. It is enormous and raggedly edged.

And that’s because Mike invented and taught us a whole new way to tell our stories. Then he made sure our stories were heard.

Really, what better gift could a person give the world, what better legacy could a person leave than giving us a new way to connect, one to an other? By giving us a Fourth Genre, he showed us how creative non-fiction can transport us to someone else’s place and time and experience.

And he poured more of his life into teaching and celebrating other people’s writing than anyone we knew. He celebrated Jack’s poems too, because he was generous that way. He listened to Jack’s stories, and Jack listened to his, and Carole and I were very patient, taking walks to stare into woods or along shorelines,  when many… well, most… of those stories centered on sports.

He introduced us to so many writers. And by us, I mean Jack and Julie, but I especially mean you, and the world. Editors paid attention to the writers Michael paid attention to. Careers quietly and not so quietly launched by his careful reading and coaching, his boundless energy for this work.

No. It’s hard to walk through this day, and it’s hard to imagine tomorrow without Michael. And if it’s hard for us, we can hardly dip a toe into Carole’s pain.  So let’s go to her now, and tell her we will never forget him. Not ever. Impossible.

Without looking for it, this poem landed in my lap this morning. It makes me think of that kid in Brooklyn, playing baseball anywhere he could hunt up a game. And then finding his girl.

Carole, we love you…  J&J


I am still on a rooftop in Brooklyn
on your holy day. The harbor is before me,
Governor’s Island, Verrazano Bridge
and the Narrows. I keep in my head
what Rabbi Nachmann said about the world
being a narrow bridge and that the important thing
is not to be afraid. So on this day
I bless my mother and father, that they be
not fearful where they wander. And I
ask you to bless them and before you
close your Book of Life, your Sefer Hachayim,
remember that I always praised your world
and your splendor and that my tongue
tried to say your name on Court Street in Brooklyn.
Take me safely through the Narrows to the sea.

–Harvey Shapiro
From A Momentary Glory — Last Poems, Wesleyan University Press

Poetry and the Spirit (Sold Out, Wait List Open)

IMG_0687A conversation with Pastor Sal of Douglas UCC and Poet Laureate of Douglas Jack Ridl will be held October 24, 7 to 9pm, at Douglas United Church of Christ, 54 Wall Street, Douglas, Michigan. Tickets are available at:

Sal Sapienza, pastor of the Douglas United Church of Christ,  is a writer, a spiritual pilgrim, and a progressive minister who seeks communion of all faiths and justice in all things. Poet Jack Ridl was once a pre-seminary student, a former professor of poetry, a workshop leader, who for many years studied Zen.

The evening will begin with Sal and Jack offering some of their ways of thinking about the spiritual and the poetic, which not only have much in common, but may be so intertwined as to be inseparable. After their conversation, the audience will join in with their questions, comments, wonderings, ways of thinking.

Sal and Jack will refer to their own books, so it may be useful to bring along your copies. Their books are available through online and real life bookstores. Reader’s World Bookstore will have books for sale before and after the discussion in the Friendship Hall.

Seating is limited, tickets are $10 and will be taken at the door. Buy your tickets at:

Blog on Break. Here’s why…

Hi folks,
Jack had emergency surgery on Friday to release pressure on his spinal column, remove bone spurs, and fuse his neck from top to bottom. He has 12 weeks recovery in a hard neck brace that makes reading and emailing impossible.
As much as Jack would appreciate hearing from you, please don’t email him right now. It’s just too hard for him to respond, and he always feels pressure to respond. He should be back at it in late October!
All best to you and your work! Resist!
And to get your fix of great writing from large-hearted folks, head to Writer’s Resist.

Fractals: A Nocturne

Tis the season. As we learned this week from the Handbook of 45–global warming is a hoax, climate change is normal. Just note the big early snowstorms.


When confronted by Pilate, Jesus said, “I am not of your kingdom,” and a multitude of us are most certainly saying, yelling, muttering much the same about King 45.

Things aren’t fine, but we have learned how to hold on to all that is good, loving, true.

And so in the midst of it all, ’tis still the season to be jolly, not happy–jolly.

Fractals: A Nocturne

Today we woke to the first snowfall of the season.
You know how it is: The flakes fall, and after
the dog goes out, comes in, you wipe his paws.
Or you don’t.

My wife’s father was captain
of a destroyer heading to
Cuba during the missile crisis. He
and his crew listened to Radio Havana.
Sometimes to Tito Puente. Kennedy
called to turn back the fleet.

This is the holiday season. The deer will soon lie in
the drifts outside our bedroom window. They sleep,
lift their heads, then lower them back into sleep.

Last night we put up a Frazier fir. They hold
their needles. We also untangled the strings
of lights. Eight months before I was born, my father,

white Army captain of a black company, led his
men through the rubble of Belgium and France.
My mother and her mother trimmed a tree.

I was born in April. My father was slogging his men
through the breath-stealing heat of the Philippines.
We are not treated the same as the others, he wrote,
and we are living in a rice paddy. All there is is rain.

Here it is still snowing.

–Jack Ridl

First published by Re)verb.

Then published in Toad.

Published in an alternative form in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)

I encourage you to take a look at the blog kept by award winning author and artist Linda K. Sienkiewicz. In posts she entitles “What, Why, How,” Sienkiewicz asks each person she welcomes to her blog those three questions. Talk about cutting to what really matters. Her novel In the Context of Love received not one but five major awards.

For many the Season of Advent is arriving. I noted before, Gayle Boss’s All Creation Waits, her numinous reflections on creatures who live with us, each reflection accompanied by the stunning woodcuts of David G. Klein. Day one: Painted Turtle, followed by Muskrat! Soon comes the loon and then the wood frog!

And here’s what Dos Madres Press has released about Greg Rappleye’s new collection–

New Book:  Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds by Greg Rappleye

Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds

Greg Rappleye is a poet of exquisite, lush language, exacting and precise in description, inventive in the re-creation of entire worlds. In this intoxicating and revelatory journey through the Brazilian rain forests of the 19th century, he populates the canvas of his poems with not only the flora and fauna of that time and place, but with the voice and inimitable perspective of its subject: Martin Johnson Heade, an American painter obsessed with the otherworldly appearance and flight of hummingbirds. As Rappleye’s imagined Heade confesses, “[I] walk for days to find their tiny hearts / beating in the jungle dark.” Yet for all its meticulous research, the heart of this book is a meditation on connection, on what we willingly give our lives over to. As the poet asks, “What should we save—/ a fallen world, or the life we are finally given to live?” —Todd Davis

On April 1 (perfect!)  my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!

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

Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, 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.

In My Little Hometown

Today in the states we celebrate Thanksgiving. And yes, within it all, there is still much to be thankful for.

Making the rounds is the following: Thanksgiving: The celebration in remembrance of the time that Native Americans sat down to dinner with the illegal immigrants.

After the midterm elections you may have heard “There’s light at the end of the tunnel.” Yes, all of us hope there is. Meanwhile, let’s do our best to each be a light within the tunnel.

In My Little Hometown

In my little hometown, there’s a grocery store,
Gilliland’s Market. If you are a few dollars
short, “You can bring the rest in next time.”

Billy Small, that’s his real name, has coffee
at the one restaurant every morning. He’s 62,
has lived here all his life. Mostly alone.
They often ask him to sweep the sidewalks.
He goes all over town, sweeps and smiles.

Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep do not live in
my little town. But everyone knows them.
They try to do some good. This morning
A Supreme Court Judge rebuked the President.
The President tweeted a caustic response.
The counting from the Camp Fire continued.

In my little town, there are five churches.
There is a park with a playground and
a swimming pool. Kids ride their bikes
and leave them leaning against a tree.

In my little town, there’s a garden club.
They meet, talk mostly about perennials.
They keep the town square in bloom
and trim the grass around the memorial
to those from town who died in any war.

My little town’s not perfect. There was
a murder/suicide in 1957. There’s no
movie theater. But Mr. Hover will
sharpen your mower, knives, and saws
for free. And the butcher at Gilliland’s knows
what you want for Thanksgiving dinner.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Toad the Journal

Hey, a couple of weeks ago, mentioned the new weekly online publication created by Reka Jellema and Kathleen Schenk: The editors welcome all sorts of writing about Holland and the area. Many of you are those writers! Take a look and consider contributing!


On April 1 (perfect!)  my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!

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

Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, 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.

Why I dropped everything to help Garnet Lewis go to Lansing.

Hi folks,

Julie Ridl here, Jack’s wife. He kindly allowed me to hijack his audience to share this message. I hope you don’t mind.

I need our friends to understand that helping Garnet Lewis in her run for Michigan State Senator has been the best work of my life, already. Selling products was fun. But helping a really fine person seek a seat on our broken Senate is easily the greatest contribution to my community that I’ve ever made in my lifetime. But I’d like you to know why I put my business clients and other commitments on hold to do this work:

If Atticus Finch, as played by Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and Eleanor Roosevelt had a baby girl, she would grow up to be the Garnet Lewis I have come to know and love.

From these virtual parents she gathers relentlessness in discovering the right things to do, then seeing them done, building coalitions and communities of people who care for all the people, listening intently, guiding respectfully, honoring differences of opinion, all with nearly unsinkable humor.

Nearly unsinkable, because her righteous anger, when sparked, is a wonder to behold. She is powerful. A legacy from Eleanor.

Sandra Bullock would be cast to play Garnet in the film adaptation of her life for her ability to portray the right blend of virtue and goofiness, with two ticks of southern charm.

For me the shorthand to her character is that she is an Air Force Brat. I am a Navy brat. We both grew up on military bases where our dads served as career servicemen, overseas. This was during the 1960s-1970s. At that time, servicemen were drafted into service, and so military bases were an egalitarian microcosm of the whole melting pot of U.S. culture. We grew up serving side by side with people from many U.S. cultures and ideologies and religious faith traditions. And I say serving because military families absolutely sacrifice and serve alongside their service people, in our cases, our dads. Our mothers were strong and self-sustaining women who could form and reform strong, hardworking communities at the drop of a pin on the map.

That’s all I needed to know about Garn, that she is part of a tradition that respects and values the contributions of the whole community, that she will fight for the health and wellbeing of any community where she lives and serves.

But wait. There’s more. She…

+Was raised in England and Germany, where she learned to appreciate different cultures, and the value and challenges of international relations
+Moved to her father’s ranch in Texas when he retired from the Air Force, where she learned about the hard work of managing land and livestock
+Studied animal husbandry
+Fell in love with the philosophy of Education, earning a Ph.D. in Education
+Fell in love with Michigan as a young professor, and has lived here ever since
+Educated many, many educators
+Educated and guided Democratic legislative candidates
+Was the first openly LGBTQ person to be appointed by our Governor to serve on one of MIchigan’s University Boards
+Chaired that board
+”Retired” to run a small business, serve on Saugatuck City’s planning commission, serve on city’s board of review
+Is a thoroughly engaging community organizer
+Bravely answered the call when her community pleaded with her to run for office
+Donated a kidney to a total stranger
+That’s right, a total stranger
+Is a selfless mensch
+Is always the adult in the room
+Has an infectious laugh
+Is Vicky’s spouse
+Is Norman the Campaign Dog’s mom

And when we elect her, she will be the first openly LGBTQ State Senator for the State of Michigan. Ever.

Big, dark money has already launched her likely Republican opposition for this seat.

It will take a lot of people with heart and small, light money to win it.

I absolutely believe in my heart and bones that if we can’t send a woman like Garnet Lewis to Lansing, we will have utterly failed our State.

So. Now you know Garnet. Will you help me support her? You don’t have to live in my district or in my state to support her campaign. You do need to be a U.S. Citizen. (sorry German buddies.) Will you consider it? Max donation to a particular candidate is $2000. Any amount is most welcome. Thanks for making it this far if you did!

Or write checks to: Garnet Lewis for State Senate, P.O. Box 611, Saugatuck, MI 49453

–Julie Ridl

Oxbow Workshop!

Hi there, one and all–

My daughter Meridith Ridl and I will be teaching a class at Ox-Bow July 9-12, from 10am till 12:30. The max number of participants is 12. There are some openings. We’d sure love to have you join us.

This is an Art on the Meadow Class. We’ll start each day with some directed writing that you will enjoy, especially because you can write any way you like: fragments, notes, lines, sentences, prose, poetry, chicken scratches . . .  Then we’ll turn to coordinating what you wrote with a visual artwork.

Each day will be different.

To find out more and sign up, here’s what to do:

Register at

Or you can call Ox-Bow at 269-857-5811

Meridith and I would love to spend the week with you!

Here’s Hoping You Read as Well as He Writes

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 8.02.23 AM

Behind this link is the lovely piece Christian Zaschke wrote about Jack’s “In Time” series, his act of resistance. We are heartbroken that we cannot read it in German, because after spending a few days with Christian (after a few minutes, we knew), we realized that this writer loves his words, uses them carefully, builds and sculpts his stories. What an honor to have met him, and how kind he was to put so much effort into casting his light on this project.

Dear new readers, here are all of Jack’s Thursday posts, resisting the administration of 45, under the tag “In Time.”

So many thanks to Norbert Kraas for introducing us!




A Free Writing (and freewriting) Event

Hey folks, I’ve got a gig coming up on April 12, 6:30 to 9:30pm at the DUCC Friendship Hall, 56 Wall Street in Douglas, MI. It’s free, and open to the public, and I’d love for you to join us, and bring a friend! It’s described in this attachment, below, which is handy for sharing with your friends and family. If you think you might like to come, please use the contact link, on my website, or the event link on my Facebook page to let me know. Thanks, and hope to see you there!

Jack Personal History Workshop