Knowing Now You’ll Never Be a Clown

Ya just have to laugh. We do. And we’re grateful for the court jesters, those brassy, brazen jokesters who dare to amplify the cruelty, arrogance, and egomania that vandalize our joy. Do, please, send in the clowns.
Knowing Now You’ll Never Be a Clown

But if you were, and if your grin
were painted red as a Coke can, a fire
engine, red as the Tabasco sauce
you spilled on your mother’s carpet, and
if it lifted itself from the inside of one huge ear
to the other, and if your nose were a ping
pong ball almost begging for a swipe, and if
your feet slept within white shoes, three feet long
and flapping, would you be able then to talk
to everything you really want to talk to: the
chickadees who come closer than your nieces,
that piece of paper blown across your lawn,
the rain, each nudge of green in your garden?
And when you put on your coat, that U.N.
of colors and scraps, that coat that would
make Joseph feel he had folded himself
into the pages of GQ, the one with the shoulders
rolling up to your cheeks, with buttons the size
of pancakes, and a hem like the border of
Czechoslovakia, would you want to walk
into church, quietly take your place with
the choir and just as the minister finishes
the benediction, honk your horn? And
when you put on your polka dotted tie, wide
as a summer afternoon, would you
want to pin the squirting yellow daisy
on your lapel, sit in the business meeting,
and after the ayes have it, squeeze
the rubber bulb in your pocket?  Then
again, maybe you would just stay home,
listen to jazz, the blues, or some swing,
open each of your cupboards and talk
about Tuesday or the way the light falls
across the counters, invite Lou Jacobs,
Emmett Kelly, Felix Adler, Otto Griebling,
hell, the whole clown alley, rent a calliope,
a center ring, one elephant, and get out the pies.

–Jack Ridl

from Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

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Hey! Just a friendly reminder to check out this news about a lovely reading coming up on June 23.

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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!

I Thought This Poem Wouldn’t Have a Dog in It

I suppose this will read as merely self-indulgent information, but I’ll try to transcend that.

A puppy arrived here on Monday. Julie drove to Tecumseh, Michigan, the town where her Grandmother was born, where she picked up Vivi — named for Julie’s mother Vivian whom everyone called Vivi.

The pup is a Spinone Italiano, raised by a veterinarian and her farming husband and their six children, three of whom came to the family from Ghana. They are devoted to saving this breed so we feel part of a good thing. Vivi is sweet, gentle, pouncing with joy.
Charlie the rescue is acting like a good big brother, mostly. Cat Hattie is not sure about all this.

And the reason this is part of my project? Vivi is the embodiment of vulnerability. And here we are, every day, carrying both our own vulnerability and overwhelming empathy for that of others. Sigh.

 

I Thought This Poem Wouldn’t Have a Dog in It

Heaven would be good.
But I prefer it here only
without death’s daily nudge.

I put on some Chopin, water
the plants, spend some time
with Buddha, Emily, email,

never work on my golf game or
keep the windows clean. The center
doesn’t need to hold. Sitting here

on the couch, I read the letters
you wrote to me twenty years ago.
The first begins, “I hope you are

feeling better. I hope I’m not
out of line. It’s warm here.”
I notice the light falling across

the page, watch it take
its indiscriminate path along
the floor and think about

the time we forgot we left
the dog out overnight. He
waited at the door, and

in the morning, came in, ate,
hopped up on the couch
and fell asleep.

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Hey! Just a friendly reminder to check out this news about a lovely reading coming up on June 23.

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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 Night before the MLA, Casey Stengel Appears to the Post-Modernist Theorists

Here we are, somewhere, staggering along in days where words are used to mislead, obfuscate, gaslight.

Dr. George Bleasby, my distinguished in every good way novels professor — he would return a paper if he sniffed that we had used even one secondary source. “If you go to the library, look only at original sources. I want your paper to be about you and the novel. The novel is a sacred text.”

Dr. Bleasby would enter the class with only the current novel in his hands. He was so calm, so respectful of each of us. My papers were awful. “Your C doesn’t reflect your mind, but I know that you are afraid. You’ll find your mind. You will.”

Near the end of the spring semester, we were to have read Charles Dickens’s Hard Times. Dr. Bleasby always began class with a topic for us to talk about. He offered one. No takers. He offered another. Again, no takers. After none of us responded to the third topic, he stood, slowly, and ever so gently said, “I shall return when you have learned to respect Mr. Dickens,” and he walked out.

This is for, not “George,” but for a man I would still to this day address as Dr. Bleasby. He was with me during every class I taught…

 

The Night before the MLA, Casey Stengel Appears to the Post-Modernist Theorists

“You ever take a pitch when the count’s 3-1?
Slide home on a single to right? One time
the wind in Chicago threw my boys off.

Whitey was furious when I pulled him
with two out in the sixth, but you have to know
when to bring in your heat.” The theorists open

their titanium brief cases, grab their Pilot pens
and spiral notebooks. This is the deconstruction
they’ve been waiting for. Casey waits, then

starts back up. “One Wednesday, a week after
my stomach quit achin’, I told the boys, ‘We
gotta shine our spikes and button our shirts.’

Mick and Moose said, ‘Sure.’ But Billy
over-slid second. The bleachers were empty.
Tells ya somethin’.” The theorists are dazed.

They ask him to explicate. “Sure, I’ll explicate.
It’s all about the home field advantage. Unless
Conlin was behind the plate. Then you might as well

go to a movie. If it’s a night game, well now, that’s
not the same, it’s different. There’s a difference.
Right, Yogi? Next year. Next year. Not last. Gotta

go, boys.” The theorists say, “Thank you, Casey,”
shake his hand, have him sign their books, high-five
one another, and retreat to their hotel. They order

room service, change their panel to “Signs Don’t
Have to Signify: Words, Ontology, and the Void
between Pitches.” The Q & A lasts two hours.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Waymark, Voices of the Valley magazine.

 

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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!

In This Dark Time

On this the first day of June, my mother would always recite “What is so rare as a day in June. . .” Even after I came to Michigan, the phone would ring, I would answer and hear her recitation.

This week’s poem will be printed on a calendar created by Saginaw Valley State University in honor of poet Theodore Roethke who grew up in Saginaw. Roethke’s poem “In a Dark Time” led to this poem. Other than that, what can I say? It’s there in the title.

 In This Dark Time

Who will still dance within June’s bursting
open the doors to sing to Summer, “Come in!”?
The same sun has flung its one light across

the broken glass of stubble in the fields.
The seeds will soon enough be sewn.
If you live with an old dog, it sleeps

more hours than you even wish you could,
its soft breathing taking in and letting go
the air we never knew could fill with

what can take away the living mystery
of everything. The dog’s place is peace,
alone in the sovereignty of here. We

will dance, we who take the wheel
and the rake, who walk back to
the desk and home. The sky, steady

in its illusion, covers what the mind
can only stammer into song. This
we know: the old fiddler will still

play. The fertility of the fern will
again unroll itself always toward
the light. The loggerhead will

lie mute along the deep’s dark
ridge. The soil’s improbable hold
on what comes green will offer us

another chance to, if we dare, see.
Not merely look. See! And see again
that light will not forsake the tree.

–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 Dry Wallers Listen to Sinatra While They Work

When I was a kid we called it Decoration Day. I can still hear my grandmother saying, “It’s Decoration Day, time to put the little flags in the front yard.” I don’t know if I realized that the day was meant for decorating the graves of veterans. I do remember crossing the street from my grandmother’s house, into the little park and standing around the memorial there that held the names of those from the town who had served in World Wars I and II, my father’s name on one of them. He was the captain of a black company who was assigned to clean up after battles–both rubble and remains. Like most vets, he never talked about it. He wrote home always adding the PS. “This war will never end.”

The Dry Wallers Listen to Sinatra While They Work

This morning, my mother, here
for the holidays, is washing
the breakfast dishes, when Al, wiry,
coated with dry wall dust takes
her hand and says, “I bet you loved
Sinatra.  Dance?”  The acrid smell
of plaster floats through the room.
Frank is singing, “All or nothing
at all,” and Al leads my mother
under the spinning ballroom lights
across the new sub-floor.  He
is smiling.  She is looking over
his shoulder.  The other guys
turn off their sanders.  Al
and my mother move through
the dust, two kids back
together after the war.  Sinatra
holds his last note.  “It’s been
seven years since I danced,”
my mother says.  “Then
it was in the kitchen, too.”
Al smiles again, says,
“C’mon then, Sweetheart!”
biting off his words like the ends
of the good cigars he carries
in his pocket.  Sinatra’s singing
“My Funny Valentine” and
my mother lays her hand in Al’s.
They dance again, she looking
away when she catches my eye,
Al leading her back
across the layers of dust.

-Jack Ridl

First published in Poet Lore and winner of Say-the-Word Poetry Prize from The Ellipse Art Center, Arlington, Virginia. David St. John, judge. Also published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press).

Within What You Endure

You have likely read the columns recognizing that T’s mental and emotional development is that of a seven year old. That did it for me.

It’s reached the point where my concern for the republic has turned into resentment that I have to be concerned for the republic. I want to be concerned for what matters in my world: wife, daughter, friends, family, dog, cat, the annuals I planted last week, my Pittsburgh Penguins. You know that’s what matters–our worlds, governed by our love.

Trouble is that this week all the recent disclosures plus the overload of various activists asking for my 876th signature and accosting me for not pledging a mere $25 to their 876 causes sent me into one helluva dark place, and I ended up displaying a similar infantile rant at those who in no way deserve to witness or be bombarded by little boy Jack. What I needed was a time out.

Within What You Endure

Beneath the quilt you lie
still in the chronic morning

light, eyes on the ceiling’s blank
canvas. You paint your father

in a dark blue shirt kneeling
in his garden, you sitting small

beside him, he handing you
his trowel and a seedling,

as if to say, “You plant this one.”
And you imagine you do. Then

you paint your own house
half-built at the foot of a gentle

rise within the quiet landscape
of a stagger of pines higher

than the roof. The sun is half way
up. You put down your brush,

and welcome the day, your day
spreading out into its question.

-Jack Ridl

Published in Third Wednesday and Poet Lore

After the Embargo

Immigration–an issue. Especially during our current political darkness. But an issue is not people. What does it mean to be an immigrant? How can we know in new ways?

I’m also thinking about us all. I’m thinking that we are immigrating every day–where we live, in what we do, even at home. Daily we’re immigrating our way into nations of others and other ways, adapting and adjusting and hoping to be welcomed, perhaps assimilated. It’s precarious: we can be extradited. We deeply want to be neighbors.

The shift from identity as immigrant to neighbor is poignantly revealed in the new anthology, Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors, edited by Jennifer Clark and Miriam Downey.

The proceeds from sales of this important book ($10) benefit Justice For Our Neighbors, a ministry of hospitality that welcomes immigrants into our communities by providing affordable, high-quality immigration legal services, and engaging in advocacy for immigrants’ rights.

The anthology is valuable not only for the individual reader, but also for those teaching applicable courses, leading workshops, etc. To order email kzoo_assist@jfonwestmichigan.org or download and use this order form.

After the Embargo
Let in. Let out.
Make sure to send
the cigars. We must

have the cigars. And a
baseball player or two
or three. And Cuban

sandwiches. The music
has been here for
a thousand years. It

never needed a heartrending
raft to land on the sand.
It came the way music always

does. And now we sigh and
hope that never again along
the Keys’ haphazard shores

will a sea-soaked, ragged,
salt-enameled soul be dragged
to jail to wait, and then to wait.

–Jack Ridl
First published in Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors (Celery City Books)

The World in May Is Leafing Out

As we’ve been driving north from our little houseboat in Key West, we realize that we are also driving into Spring. It’s May, a wonder-full counterpoint to all that is trying to keep winter in our hearts.

The World in May Is Leafing Out 
It’s Matisse on a bicycle. It’s
a great blue heron coloring
outside the lines. The show’s
turned over to the aftermath
of buds. You can love
never thinking
this cliché could turn
to ice. Even nice
can be profound
as worry, even
the creek over the rotting log,
the pansy in the moss-covered
pot. The birds bulge
with song. Mary Cassat
throws open her windows.
Monet drags his pallet,
sits and waits for the paint
to spill across the patina
of his failing sight. Eric Satie
makes his joyous cling
and clang a counterpoint
to dazzle. The earth is rising
in shoots and sprays.
The sky’s as new as rain.
The stubborn doors swing open.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Listening Eye, Kent State University

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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 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!