The Man Who Made Towers of Beach Glass

Talk about a contrast with what the T-word is imposing on us…

This week marks the 35th anniversary of Key West seceding from the United States. The U.S. government had set up a roadblock at the only way in and out of the island in order to check every car for illegal immigrants and such. And so the mayor and citizenry seceded. International news! The motto: “We seceded where others fail.” The basic tenets on which foreign policy was founded: “The mitigation of world tension through humor, but at no ones’ expense, warmth, and respect.” The Conch Republic’s Army motto: “A farce to be reckoned with.”

This week we vote as many times as we want for the Conch Republic Royal Family, each vote costs a dollar, and the proceeds go to the Foster Children’s Fund. There’s a drag race down Duval (heels not wheels), a secession re-enactmment, passports for sale, a “bed” race, a have-a-drink-and-race-to-the-next-bar race, a pet stroll, and the longest parade in the world — all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

Yesterday we were talking to a fellow about why after living in many places, he settled in Key West. “No judgment except we do judge against cruelty.”

It’s true that one seldom hears the words “acceptance” and “tolerance” around here. I’ve always thought and taught that those words toward others are patronizing, a kind of self-righteousness, and well remember when arriving at the college being told, “We need a few people like you.” I was also told, “If you are going to be an academic, you have to stop dropping your g’s.”  I was droppin’ ’em. I realized that if I stopped, I’d be turnin’ my back on my culture.

The Man Who Made Towers of  Beach Glass

They reach green,
brown, blue, red
and sunlight clear.
He never adds
a piece larger
than his hand,
is glad when
he sees a head
tilt back, eyes
staring up into
the refractions
of heaven. He
asks everyone
who stops by
if they know
about beach glass?
“Water rolls the edges
smooth, rounds
them so they won’t
cut anything. Stand
here. Watch.”

–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!

Within the Moment of Indefinite Suffering

Greetings Friends–

Yesterday I sent emails to all of you who wrote on the comments page because I wanted to let you know that I responded there, in case you never heard back. However, there were a whole bunch of you for whom I didn’t have an email address, so you might wanna go check out that page. AND NOW——-

A public service announcement: IT’S TICK SEASON!

And it’s going to be worse than ever, rampant. I’d say “huge” but…

As many of you know, Julie, after eight years, is now in remission from the consequences of being bitten by one minuscule tick. She carried and was all but disabled by Lyme disease and its accompanying co-infections. At that time not only was Lyme disease being misdiagnosed but also denied in many parts of the country. Her story is worthy of being a memoir.

No, the tick is not infected by deer. The ticks are infected by the white-footed mouse, predominantly, and there are plenty of ’em around.

What to do? Cover up when adventuring into a wooded or tall grass area. Even then, on return, check all over–especially in any “creases.” If bitten, don’t rely on the bullseye indicator. It often doesn’t show up. Get tested. Early antibiotic treatment can prevent the disease. You don’t want to even think about what we have gone through, and that so many are enduring Lyme disease.

Enough already, Jack!! They can Google for information. Get to the poem!

Okay. One more thing: What does this have to do with the current presidency. “Get rid of the EPA. Cut back on health research! And and and . . .”  Uh, maybe a metaphor?

Within the Moment of Indefinite Suffering

All it takes is a tick. You can be walkingyour dog.
Your dog can be stopping to
sniff a patch of jewel weed or pausing
to pee on a post surrounded by poison ivy.

You could be watching a swallowtail slowly
lifting and settling its wings while resting on
a swatch of crown vetch. The sun could be
lost behind clouds, clustered in a cumulus

mound of white or sinister gray, the moon
could be full, waning, new, the stars moving
across their scrim of deep space, everything
still benign in its revolving threat. You

could be sweeping the walk, passing under
the pergola draped in wisteria, wedding veil,
honeysuckle, or merely sitting on the bench
beside the brook out back. Or taking a path

through the park, joggers steady-stepping, or
walking along the well-worn trail to the pond
at the edge of town where you could be sitting
under the willow, its branches hanging their braids

over your wait for the sunfish to surface. It could all be
beautiful: the day, the light, the breeze bending the tall grass.

— To all those suffering under the politics of Lyme disease

First published in Poet Lore, 2012

Published in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron, WSU 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!

Dailiness

Times such as these can erode our sense of mystery about being itself, just being. Of course in the West meaning is what holds a hierarchy of value. “But it’s meaningless,” we hear. Or “I really need to do something meaningful.”
Being is a wonder. It can be especially important now not to dismiss that there is no such thing as “merely” mundane. I have to admit to tiring of hearing lives devalued by some to “dailiness.”

Nancy Willard’s work steadfastly holds to recognizing wonder, the magic of what can be taken for granted. You may know of her A Visit to William Blake’s Inn. Nancy had a great personal impact on our daughter Meridith when she was young. And on this guy always.

This gives me a chance to say thank you to you, reading this, for sustaining this project, this journeyman in his own explorations of dailiness.

 

Dailiness

This morning after the angels had put on
their scarves and mittens and said their
goodbyes and headed out into the surprise

of the first snow, he put away the recipe
for crepes, washed the plates, the other
dishes, silverware, put the butter in cold

water, and poured a second cup of coffee.
The moon was not yet set at 8:30, and it
made him remember how he never wanted

to leave his grandmother, her house, her
porch, her lap where she would read
to him, often a chapter from Moby Dick

or a comic—Felix the Cat, Buck Rogers—
an Uncle Wiggly story, something from
the King James Bible. Today he knew

what lay ahead: He would feed the fish
in his little pond, cut back what he’d left
in the flower bed, get pumpernickel bread

and orange marmalade, then the mail, maybe
stop at Jane’s Depot and buy some new
warm socks. And he needed to decide

what book next to read. And what
to have tomorrow for breakfast when
the angels would be back around 7:30.

for Nancy Willard

 

–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!

Hit Man Responds to a Rejection Slip That Says His Work Lacks Lyricism

It’s National Poetry Month.  Always bemused me that they chose April, the month that T.S. Eliot called “the cruelest month of all.”  Of course here in Michigan it usually is rather disappointing. We welcome the Spring equinox as if the flower beds will suddenly burst into bloom. Like most who wander in their gardens, I head to the garage and lug out the pots, clean the paths, even haul mulch. And then the temperature drops like Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl, the drearies set in, and the weather ball says “Snow on Thursday.”

I have never once said, “Poet,” when asked, “What are you?” But in Ireland for some reason I said, “I’m a poet,” when asked by a fellow on the street the first day we were in Ballyvaughan. He brightened and offered, “Well, are ya now! Then ya must come doon to the pub this evening and read to us. That would be luvly! And over a pint or two, eh!”

No need to publish or win some award or hear “I liked that one,” or hope for approval. In the pub, a poem was as soulfully nourishing as laughter, a raised pint to Jimmy’s dog, or another round.

Hit Man Responds to a Rejection Slip That Says His Work Lacks Lyricism

“You know what happens
to anyone dumb enough
to be gawkin’ at stars?
Tell ya what I’d do–
throttle ‘em up against
a dumpster. We’d see
whose consciousness gets
raised; I’d hoist it higher
than a crack dream. Up
your lyric. Here’s what
you can do with your
elegiac. Epiphany this.
Who in hell’s runnin’
things? Some forehead
who can’t decide what
socks to wear? I bet
he says, ‘James, you
decide,’ then heads out
to dinner with the intern.
Well, I’d be glad to serve him
an anti pasta he won’t soon
forget, one he’ll be scanning
in his dreams. How about
he reads between these lines—
Time he learned he shoulda
been like his old man and
sold cars, or had the balls
to be a decent plumber.”

-Jack Ridl
First published in Waymark

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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!

 

Coach in Effigy

Well, it’s time for The Final Four.

What does this have to do with this post-election project, you ask. I hope it will come clear.

My sister and I, living as a basketball coach’s kids, have never gotten past the impact of abusive fans. To this day, no matter what the team, after any game we’ve watched or read about be it college/university or high school, now likely even junior high, elementary school we immediately think about the family of the coach of the losing team. My father said to a writer from Sports Illustrated who was writing about him, “I love this game. But I don’t understand most fans.”

I think it was 1957 or ’58. My father started three black players. The next morning he was asked to report to the president’s office. When he came back for lunch, we asked him, “So, what was that about?” He said, “Well, the president said that he’d gotten phone calls. Then he leaned across his desk and said, ‘Next game,’ and he held up just two fingers.”  We–my mother, sister, and I–sat silent. Then I ventured, “Next game? What are you gonna do?” My father, who was quite a modest and soft-spoken man, replied, “Next game–”  And he held up four fingers.

Coach in Effigy

His daughter saw him first,
hanging from the maple
that draped its old arms
over the house, his head
blooming from the rope
that strangled his neck.
In the morning’s moonlight,
she read their name
scrawled like a scar
across his chest.  She
remembered the way
his hands had held her
years ago when, bloodied
from a fall, she’d let
the scream we all carry
go to him.  He seemed
to hold it in his hands.
Now, within this losing
season, she wants to take
this anonymous lynching
in her arms, ask the hands
that made it and the fists
that rose against it
to join, stand around her
as she sings the only song,
lets the head rest, lets
the heart give out.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Westminster Review

Anthologized in 9MM, edited by Ryan G. Van Cleve and Virgil Suarez

Published in the collection Losing Season (CavanKerry 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!

 

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!

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!

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!

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!

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!