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 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!

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!

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!

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!

 

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!

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!

 😇