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 for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

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And, of course, click here to visit, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

Meditation on a Photograph of a Man Jumping a Huge Puddle in the Rain

As we head into what’s called the new year, for many of us it will mean more intense and unwarranted distraction from what we deserve to have matter to us. I’m thinking of what it could mean to jump a puddle.

Meditation on a Photograph of a Man Jumping a Huge Puddle in the Rain

The time: then. The spirit: always.
And the rain: now. Sometimes

the day will leave
something behind—what ?—

between our toes
or under our last words at night.

We might say, “Let’s go ahead,”
and we do. We leap. And the eyes
watching from

the corners and doorways
go on to what stays the same.

For now, we
are different. You
and I. And the rain

and time and the spinning

–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, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

In Time: While the Dog Sleeps

Friends! Some whacked-out sociologist has written that we make no more than four or five friends in our lives. How did I get so lucky? He needs to meet each of you.

I don’t need to proclaim anything more about what has happened to us. Here’s what I want to do, and do with some self-consciousness: send a poem each week.

W. H. Auden announced that poetry makes nothing happen. I have fought that notion all my life. If I don’t believe that what I’ve given my days to can matter a tiny bit for even a moment to one human heart, then at this age, I’d be looking back at one humungous waste of time. I don’t believe I have wasted my time.

So each Thursday for the next four years, I’m going post a poem of mine (that’s where the self-consciousness enters) on my blog, as a kind of protest against the anti-soul perched atop the once free world. Please don’t worry about responding to it. If the poem can be a friend for you for a bit, that’s plenty. And feel free to “pay it forward” if you know of someone who would benefit from this.

I suppose I want to do this because I am nagged by a need to do something. I hope this will be my little protest on behalf of lovingkindness, for what is good. And all the more these days I want to feel connected to all of you during a time that has darkened the days in multiple ways.

I doubt many of us want to be uplifted. Being uplifted can feel all wrong when so many are suffering. I do think many of us want to feel respected, honored, affirmed, comforted. I hope this little project will help to fill that need.

So to see the poem each week, you can click on the Subscribe link at the top of the page, enter your email, and you’re good to go. Or just visit here on Thursdays. Of course, we’ll never use this email list for anything but sending you content from the blog.

Namaste, Shalom, Amen, Whatever. Here’s the first poem:


While the Dog Sleeps

November the first: Cold.
The last gangs of geese flying
through the gray of the day.
It’s the birthday of Stephen Crane.
On this date, Michelangelo said yes
to the Pope and gathered his brushes.
At the church next door, the choir
is rehearsing. There is nothing
I want to rehearse. Recently I’ve
been realizing, “If that didn’t exist, I
would never miss it.” I say it a lot.
But not about you. We put isinglass
over the screens on the porch so we
could sit there in sweaters, take the time
to see what was in front of us. Now
“tomorrow” is a strange word, “now”
even stranger. “Yesterday” makes sense
but not much of it is true. Our dog still
keeps sleep. I imagine him dreaming
La dolce far niente. When asked
if I miss what I did for forty years
I like to say, “That never existed.”
Now here on the porch I take in the light
crossing the last leaves doing their slow
dance in the breeze, watch the chickadees
at the feeder, once in a while glance at
the sundial we set in the shade of the redbud.

–Jack Ridl

Published in  The Louisville Review, October 2015


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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, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!


“She’s kept me off drugs,” her handler
says, standing beside Suzie waiting
to lead her under the half-risen big top.
She will pull the center pole into place,
lifting the patched and re-stitched
stretch of sky-blue canvas streaked
with stars toward the clouds hanging
over the lot. Every morning
after the roustabouts, staggering
from bad wine, heat, and three hours’
sleep in the sweat-drenched bunks
stacked five high in the semi
that hauls them from job to job,
have driven the stakes, looped
the guy ropes over the side poles,
and unfolded the unrolled midway
and main tent, after the great hum
of the power generator has been
hooked into the lights that tonight
will glow across the cornfields, Suzie
hears the elephant boy holler, “Hunh,
Suzie, hunh,” and feels the quick, dull
thwack of his hook against her side.
She, swaying like a great gray ship
docked in the daylight, lifts
her accustomed trunk and, dust
flying off her back, trots as she has
every workday for forty years
in through the main entrance
and stands where the roustabouts
will later piece together each fading
arc of the red center ring. The handler
hooks the enormous clank of chain
to her leathered harness, again
shouts, “Hunh, Suzie, hunh,” and
she, with a slow wave of her crusty
ears, caked and sore from a thousand
bites, walks with the indifference
of sovereignty to the far end
of the tent, pulling the great pole up
and into place, the pole itself carrying
the sky and all its stars from the dust.

© Jack R. Ridl 2003

The Drywallers Listen to Sinatra While They Work

This morning, my mother, here
for the holidays, is washing
the breakfast dishes, when Al, wiry,
coated with drywall 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 R. Ridl 2001

Against Elegies

Im 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.
Im 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. Im 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 R. Ridl 1995

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. One day he realized
he’d forgotten about the lady
and the way the dog and the man two blocks
over and the mail, and found himself
smiling, sprinkling the spoons.

© Jack R. Ridl 1990

My Brother, A Star

for my mother and my father

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 hair cut.” 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.

© Jack R. Ridl 1985