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.


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!

Sorting Through the Records

I wonder what my mother would be thinking about these times. When she was pregnant with me, and her husband was at war, she lived with her mother and father, a father she adored. He died two weeks before Christmas, 1943. I was born in April, 1944. My father was serving as a Captain in the Army and stationed in the Philippines. When the war ceased, he came to a country where the dignity of the office of the President was assumed.
Today is her birthday.

 

Sorting through the Records

“I’ll toss the ones I’ll never listen to,”
my mother says, “or give them to Grace
who’ll sell them at the Lutheran Home.”
I can see my mother dusting each record,
setting aside the ones she doesn’t remember,
finding ones that take her to the dance floor
where she jitterbugged, fox trotted, slow
danced with my father. “I can still see us.
Dancing to ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams.’
My dress had polka dots. I know that’s dumb.”
It was 1940. The war was waiting
for my father. He graduated, the next day
took a bus to boot camp, became the captain
of a black company and slogged through the mud
of France and Belgium, then into the jungle rot
of the Philippines. Through Basic, he ate, slept,
bathed with the white soldiers, used the whites only
toilets, drank from the fountains just for whites.
At the day’s end, he saluted his men,
then dismissed them to their sergeant. “I thought
that’s just the way it was,” he said only once,
his brow furrowed like the rows the tanks cut deep
in the camp dust. Every week, he wrote my mother
ending always with the same PS. “I know this war
will never end.” She waited. One New Year’s Eve
he sent her violets from France. She pinned them
on her coat, stood outside, listened to the clang
and clamor of midnight. Tonight she’ll play
Frank Sinatra singing “I Bought You Violets
for Your Furs.” Later in the week, she’ll go
to her line dance lesson with some friends.

First published in Harpur Palate, 2005
Collected in Broken Symmetry, Wayne State University Press

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

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!

Broken Symmetry

What can one say when it feels as if even when we wake to a day that begins in our calm going about what we do every day, some unfathomable shock splits us off from fully attending to our own loved worlds?

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 Magazine

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

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!

Some Notes I Took This Morning

It’s just too complicated: we can’t freely speak, stand, or kneel for some things but we can for other things. I can’t keep it straight. I need a list.

Here’s a list–

Some Notes I Took This Morning

Some say naming affirms one thing
from another; then we see.

Light on the day lilies. That’s a name
I like. I hadn’t realized that before.

Snow. Snow. Snow.         Snow.

Our dog pulls and twists
and pushes and scrapes
at the blanket on the day bed
then lies down.

Throwing things away is good. Not
throwing things away is also good.

Am I naming?

The dissonance of birds singing
braids the air. Kingfisher and song sparrow?

Sometimes I know why I wash the windows:
I hear voices.

There cannot be a better word for lunch than lunch.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Talking River.

*****Friends, Richard Raubolt, Ph.D has produced a moving documentary film, Born to be Heard, in which members of the LGBTQ community talk about how the election has impacted their lives. To learn more about the film and perhaps have a showing, contact Richard at  r.raubolt@gmail.com *****

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

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!

Over in That Corner, the Puppets

I’ve talked with many who are experiencing a sense that their days of small and gentle moments have been sabotaged.

Below is a poem that arrived out from those conversations.

And here are two books that might be a comfort and support:

Poetry of Presence edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai & Ruby R. Wilson (Grayson Books). This anthology leads you into a beautiful connection with what matters in your every day.

Braided Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. A member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer in lyrical prose leads us to realize that when we listen to the languages of the earth we come to understand its generosity.

 

Over in That Corner, the Puppets

–for Naomi Shihab Nye

Even when the weather changes,
remember to pet the dog, make
the cat purr, watch whatever

comes to the window. If you
stand there long enough,
someone will come by,

a stranger perhaps, one who
could be more, but needs
to keep walking. Hello

is likely all you can say.

–Jack Ridl

 

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

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!

 

Listening to Baseball on the Back of the Boat

The hurricanes. Now devastation comes in threes. Julie has spent her days trying to help our Key West friends both on and off the island stay in touch, find who and what they needed to make it through, ease their hearts.

We are ever grateful to those of you who checked on us. Your caring sustained our shocked hearts as we waited with only thoughts of the worst — as did everyone.  Thank you.

As of today no one is allowed back on the island for probably 7-10 days. There is the overwhelming need to tend to roads, bridges, provide clean water, deal with sewage, restore power, bring in gasoline, medical supplies, food, assess damages. The teams on the ground are making amazing progress. But it’s hard to wait to return.

And of course at this time, most everyone is thinking about how it could have been worse and how many millions are worse off than those of us who are getting up this morning to another day with food, shelter, pets, friends.

Here’s a poem I composed to somehow fit with the disaster–

Listening to Baseball on the Back of the Boat

The Pirates are up 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth.
An hour ago, I watched a rehabbed houseboat
being towed across the bight and into its slip,

the owners Pittsburghers who wandered down
into the sun and humidity of Key West. The water’s
dappled oblongs of light ripple laconically and

the sky is all but gull-less. Tonight the saved
boat’s owners will couple again—perhaps—
the same sun setting its lower light through

their new windows. Now it’s the seventh inning.
I don’t know why I’m listening. Maybe I am
twelve. Maybe they are seventeen again finding

themselves in an old new boat, surprised
that saving it has maybe saved a twitch of
them even though this was never in the plans.

A Dodger just homered with two on
making it 3-2. I look back across the water,
watch four cormorants dive, surface, dive.

–Jack Ridl

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

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!

My Brother — A Star

“The Necessary Angel” is what Wallace Stevens called the imagination. Which begs the question, when is an angel not necessary? We need them all right now.

The following poem seeks to embody what he meant. When poet/fiction writer/brother Gary Gildner read the poem he said, “This is when the sensibility of a poet arrived for you.”

My Brother—A Star

My mother was pregnant through the first
nine games of the season.  We were 7 -2.
I waited for a brother.  My father
kept to the hard schedule.  Waking
the morning of the tenth game, I thought
of skipping school and shooting hoops.
My cornflakes were ready, soggy.  There
was a note:  “The baby may come today.
Get your haircut.”  We were into January,
and the long December snow had turned
to slush.  The wind was mean.  My father
was gone.  I looked in on my mother still
asleep and hoped she’d be OK.
I watched her, dreamed her dream:  John
at forward, me at guard.  He’d
learn fast.  At noon, my father
picked me up at the playground.  My team
was ahead by six.
We drove toward the gym.
“Mom’s OK,” he said and tapped his fist
against my leg.  The Plymouth ship that rode
the hood pulled us down the street.
“The baby died,” he said.  I felt my feet press hard
against the floorboard.  I put my elbow on the door handle,
my head on my hand, and watched the town:
Kenner’s Five and Ten, Walker’s Hardware,
Jarret’s Bakery, Shaffer’s Barber Shop, the bank.
Dick Green and Carl Stacey waved.  “It was
a boy.”
We drove back to school.  “You gonna
coach tonight?”  “Yes.”  “Mom’s OK?”
“Yes.  She’s fine.  Sad.  But fine.  She said
for you to grab a sandwich after school.  I’ll see you
at the game.  Don’t forget about your hair.”  I
got out, walked in late to class.
“We’re doing geography,” Mrs. Wilson said.  “Page
ninety-seven.  The prairie.”
That night in bed
I watched this kid firing in jump shots
from everywhere on the court.  He’d cut left,
I’d feed him a fine pass, he’d hit.
I’d dribble down the side, spot him in the corner, thread
the ball through a crowd to his soft hands, and he’d
loft a star up into the lights where it would pause
then gently drop, fall through the cheers and through the net.
The game never ended.  I fell into sleep.  My hair
was short.  We were 8 and 2.

-for my mother and my father

–Jack Ridl

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

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.”

School has begun–again.

It won’t be long until the words “average student” will be applied to many a student, whether that student loves to learn or could care less. Is there any way to banish this misapplied word? What really does it mean? Was Buddha an average Buddha? Jesus an average Christ? Let’s help Nancy be Nancy and help Carl be Carl.

As Dr. George Bleasby, my beloved novels prof, would instruct us: “Love the stuff.”
In my college there is–or was–a three-by-five card for each of its English major graduates. Mine read, “Among the finest writer/reflectors we’ve had, and by far the worst objective test taker we’ve ever seen.”   That’s A and an F, which averages to C, which means average.
I don’t know what that means. But I know plenty who do.
The title of the following poem is something that will be muttered in schools all year long. Sigh.

I know I offered it before. Well, here it is again–

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

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!

To Live with the Benedictines

After the incomprehensible insensitivity of this past week, I have been thinking with deep gratitude about Guy Martin, the remarkable man I worked for at Colgate University. Guy was a theologian, philosopher, man of depth carried gently. His presence was one of inexhaustible thoughtfulness.

Guy was infinitely patient with this anxiety ridden kid trying to come through on his first work after college.  One day I asked Guy what he as a kid told people when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He thought for a bit — he always thought for a bit before responding to any question or comment — then said, “I remember now that I always said that I wanted to be kind.”

To Live with the Benedictines

I would love to live within the Benedictine
vow of hospitality, letting it fill the day–
from matins bringing the sun out of

the night until I kneel by the straw
pillow waiting for my happy head.
To never have to try to feel at home,

to wander into prayer, the words turning
into leaves, salt air, nothing at all, the world
being what a cello says it can be. Anything

on the tongue would be the host—chunk
of dark chocolate, an apple, breadstick,
sprig of mint. The days, never enough,

would simply be light and dark moving in
and out of one another, a redeemed yin to
yang, an endless alchemy of hours, cowls

over the shaved heads of the monks.
To love without distinctions: Why this?
Why that? There is a window. And there

is a crocus blooming in the snow. There is
a book open to page 73. And there, asleep,
an old dog, snoring his own Gregorian chant.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Poetry East, 2006

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

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!

Epilogue

Perhaps it’s the term ‘post-modern.” I don’t understand “post-modern.” I don’t understand “modern.”

I know some people who had an argument over when modernism began. It all but destroyed their friendship. When disagreements like that break out, I feel like offering an adaptation of a Mel Brooks response: Uh, you go on arguing, “I gotta wash up.”

Epilogue. Maybe we’re inhabiting an epilogue. I like that. Epilogues tend to have a sense of addition or addendum to a story and are often a gentle settling of things.

Yeah. I don’t want to dwell with you in a “Post-T Word” world. Let’s head toward an epilogue.

Epilogue

I’m working a Sudoku puzzle, one cat
in my lap and Mozart on the radio. I
didn’t catch what work, but I don’t know

much about classical music. I like it,
most of it, have it on all day, a companion
as I wander from room to room within
a life that may or may not matter. I
also don’t know much about cats. We
have two. They act as if they can’t believe
the other should be in the house. They hiss,
growl, swat at one another. The old dog
sleeps. The young dog stands between them.
It’s a cold day, patches of snow and ice.
There are birds at the feeders. There is
a clear sky, and the creek behind the house
drifts along as does the next piece on the radio,
something by Edward Elgar or maybe it’s
Vaughn Williams. This puzzle is impossible.–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville Review

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

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!