The Chair

Jack will livestream today’s poem at 9am, ET,  on his Facebook Page here,  where the video will will be saved for later viewing. You can find all of his Livestream videos here. 

Because some personal losses happened this week that had nothing to do with Covid-19 or the protests, I thought a lot about those who are grieving in the midst of these events that affect us all. One still receives sympathy emails and notes along with baked goods, a casserole or two. But friends to sit with and be comforted by?

How does one personally grieve when one is already overwhelmed? Can you say to yourself, “I’ll put personal grieving off until family and friends can gather? No. Grief is an ambush. It attacks when it attacks, certainly immediately in the form of shock, then as the days crawl by, it sneak-attacks, and you find yourself crying in the produce section and wondering why.

And yet if you turn away from the hideous blaspheming of 45, the beautiful solidarity of the protests, the welfare of others regarding Covid, and the need to actually “serve and protect,” you feel you’ve put aside what could be — finally — a shift from consuming what isn’t needed to caring for what is.
I need to change the tone.

Let’s imagine 45’s book report on The Bible. First sentence, “It’s incredible.”

The Chair

This chair is empty. This evening
is another evening coming down around
us like the last moment before
the winds are gone and the wild
songs of the insects disappear into
the endless dream of the mind’s nest.

Whoever is not sitting in that chair
is who is resting in your veins, ready
to drift out of you, taking the voices
that interrupt the child’s play,
that hover over the marriage bed, mocking
the rhythm of being alone, ripping
the last chance from the last chance.

This empty chair sits, and sits facing
the window that frames the light
that you imagine is a gift
knowing its source is fire, its long journey
a flood, its movement through
the spider’s web a grace no less invincible
than sight. These are the days.
These are the nights. And at rest,
the empty chair.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Free Lunch. Subsequently published in Between(Dawn Vally Press).

On June 21 at 2pm I will give an online reading with charles Baxter and Laurel Blossom as part of M.L. Liebler engaging reading series on ZOOM. Write to him for details. 

Naomi Shihab Nye has a new collectionCAST AWAY (Greenwillow). She has developed a fascinatingly direct voice. Imagine, 147 pages of poems about trash! Those concerned about our environment–everyone!– will find it a companion.

Linda Hillringhouse has a personally powerful book of poems out about the things that shape her life. The Things I Didn’t Know to Wish Forfrom NYQ Books.

Dan Gerber’s new, beautifully reflective long poemLandscape at Eighty, has been gorgeously printed in letterpress by Hound Dog Press.

Gayle Boss has recorded her luminous book of environmental essays, Wild Hope, Paraclete Press, available now through Audible.

Our own Pastor Sal — Salvatore Sapienza — has a new book out, encouraging us to put away our childish thinking. It’s called… wait for it… Childish Thinking: How the Church Keeps Us Stuck in Sunday School

Where are the books? Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

See all of Jack’s Facebook Livestream Videos Here.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

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.

Jack on And Then Suddenly podcast by Angela Santillo.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Kindness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Everyday Forgiveness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Empathy.

Jack Ridl at Fetzer Institute on Suffering and Love.

Beyond Meaning with Jack Ridl, C3: West Michigan’s Spiritual Connection

Putting Away the Santas

Here’s s a New Year’s resolution: 45 will not take away our kindness.

Putting Away the Santas

I’ve found one for her every summer,
some in Christmas stores that keep things
in a desperate sparkle all year long, some
in antique shops, some at garage sales.
I set them along the windowsills here
in the house we bought and thought
would be the first in a line leading to
the perfect home. Now we can’t leave
the creek that bends its way through
the woods out back. The morning light
slides through the jagged space
between these handmade bedraggles
in divinity. Their beards flow or scraggle
down across their chests, unfurling
from their rust-red cheeks. Some raise
their arms in unabashed glee. Others
are weary, their eyes soft, their hands
barely holding on to a bear or wreath.
A few are tiny, a few are tall. One is
straight as the back of a Swedish chair,
a couple are full of gnarled Appalachian
cuts and curves. One plays the accordion;
one holds back seven dogs. Some look
as if their sacks are full of sorrow.
Our daughter made one from a
toilet paper roll. I put them out the day
after Thanksgiving, welcome each one
back, ask how their sleep among
the ornaments had gone, even thank
them for lasting one more year. Now
I wrap them one by one in a paper towel,
lay each back in its box. Come mid-July
I’ll start the search again, hoping I can
find another jolly lugger of unaccustomed joy.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Controlled Burn.

Subsequently published in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press) co-recipient of the 2013 IndieFab/ForeWord Reviews Award for the Best Collection of Poetry published by a small or university press

People are still asking, so we will tell you, you can find the conversation between Jack and Pastor Sal Sapienza, Poetry and the Spirit, over here.

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Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

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.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Kindness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Everyday Forgiveness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Empathy.

Jack Ridl at Fetzer Institute on Suffering and Love.

Beyond Meaning with Jack Ridl, C3: West Michigan’s Spiritual Connection

Star’s Christmas

I am not in any way an expert on the Constitution; however, when it comes to impeachment, if one votes along party lines rather than fulfilling ones oath to uphold the Constitution, is that not aiding and comforting our enemies, i.e., bona fide treason? (Asking for a few million friends.)

For many it’s the day after Christmas. I love when we can bring our traditions together rather than argue about secular vs religious, or religious vs religious. For those who yelp about keeping Christ in Christmas, okay, well, Jesus, born a couple thousand years ago, love incarnate, taught us to unite in joy. I can see no more Jesus-like way than bringing Dickens and Luke together to open their stockings. Along with all the people celebrating the light of the world this season.

I hope if you celebrate Christmas, that your day was dappled with joy and the greatest gift of all, being able to recognize love. I try not to get all caught up in defining it. We know it when we experience it. And we recognize its absence, as when 45 descended beneath anything humane in his remarks on Congressman Dingle.

Love. We know it when we offer it, when we receive it, when we witness it.

Star’s Christmas

Outside the box store, a Salvation
Army volunteer rings her bell,
the sound taking its place
with the snowflakes falling
around her. Star, heading in
to pick up a recording, suddenly
feels caught between desire and
the bell. He feels he’s going
to blow a lay up, that
a crowd of angels is watching
to see if he’ll take the shot or
toss the ball to his teammate
cutting down the lane. Inside,
he sees the glow of florescence
hovering over the aisles. The bell
continues its single note. The ringer’s
stare moves across the lot, between
the cars, between the snowflakes.
Star feels everything in his life
change, the way a vase suddenly
becomes two faces. All he
wanted was a new cd, to take
it home, lie back on his bed and
let it let him dream. But now
each person in the store is an angel,
every dollar a story. Each car
is rusting back to earth. Star’s
sore from playing and afraid
the change he carefully drops into
the bucket is never enough, that
the bell’s one note will never stop.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Free Lunch.

Subsequently published in Losing Season (CavanKerry Press).

New Year’s resolution: Support the value of poems: Give a book to someone who isn’t aware that poems aren’t what they think they are, a book that will enable the person to feel understood and affirmed.

 

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Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

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.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Kindness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Everyday Forgiveness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Empathy.

Jack Ridl at Fetzer Institute on Suffering and Love.

Beyond Meaning with Jack Ridl, C3: West Michigan’s Spiritual Connection

Trainer Teaches Eight Phys Ed Classes a Day

These past weeks I experienced the most consistent kindness that has ever come my way other than from my wife. I was at Holland Hospital, and the staff there created an exceptional fusion of professionalism, expertise, and warmth.

Imagine a world where this is a universal incarnation.

I once knew a minister who greeted everyone with “Hi ______! Man, you look really good and with all that’s going on right now in your life . . . ” He knew.

I wonder what it might be like if we gently assumed the pain of one another and greeted each other with such understanding, compassion?

Trainer Teaches Eight Phys Ed Classes a Day

And he goes to
every game. He
knows pain’s
every name, lets it
lead him through
its landscape
to the perfect
place to stay.

He’s a priest
listening
to the mortal
sins within
the skin, the
muscles, blood,
and bone.

If pain refuses
to confess,
he prays
his prayer,
says, “Can you
still go?”
Knows.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Nebraska Territory
Subsequently published in Losing Season (CavanKerry Press)

I’ve hit a bump in the road, requiring surgery and a long healing time. And that means unscheduling or rescheduling a few things:

The August 13 Reading at the Red Dock will be postponed until next year.

The August 20 Reading at Book Nook in Montague will be rescheduled for some time in the fall or winter.

Good News! Noah Davis, son of long time friend/poet/writer/environmentalist Todd Davis, has won the Emerging Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize from MSU Press!

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Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

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.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Kindness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Everyday Forgiveness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Empathy.

Jack Ridl at Fetzer Institute on Suffering and Love.

Beyond Meaning with Jack Ridl, C3: West Michigan’s Spiritual Connection

The Rain on the Burren

Julie and I are members of the Douglas UCC Creation Justice Team, a group that believes that the way we treat the environment is a matter of justice. We organized our own “Big Read” of Dan Egan’s extraordinarily important book The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, and Tuesday evening a large group gathered to talk about the urgency of not only protecting, but saving the Great Lakes.

It’s unsettling how few of us realize that what is happening to our water everywhere is dire, and without water becoming an issue that everyone becomes aware of, that same everyone will have their lives threatened and the lives who live after become all but unlivable.

Does 45 care? How could he? He doesn’t read. He doesn’t listen. He is the master of “I wouldn’t be around anyway.”

He’d say, “Climate change? A hoax. Damn rain.”

The Rain on the Burren

I.

The morning rain comes every day, bleak
across the grays of limestone. It falls
on the dolmen, austere and singular
since the cold people of the stone age
hoisted the great slab over their dead.
At home this rain would be a reason
to change our little plans. But here we
assume our noses will drip, our feet
will be wet as we walk the roadside
along the stone walls covered in gorse
and wild roses, our breath will warm
our hands. At home, we would be
having our breakfast on the porch,
a bowl of strawberries in cold milk.
In this day’s beginning we let our hands
wrap around a steaming cup of tea,
then find their way to each other.

II.

The rain here is a burst along the horizontal
or a languid drizzle, the light seeming to lag
behind the day’s gray crawl across the limestone.
Peat-dappled smoke rises sweet within the soft
damp, hints at a warm corner, or after the lost hours
of work, a hearth and finally sleep. The chill is mute.
Tomorrow the sun may come, glistening its light
across the subtleties of green and the blue
of the spring gentians, ellipses between the neolithic
slabs and glacial blunder of boulders. And always
this benevolence of stillness, the rain.

–Jack Ridl

Published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

Hey, I’m so delighted to announce the April 1 (perfect!) release of my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, from Wayne State University Press. Yes, preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!
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Congratulations to Susan Glassmeyer, recently named “Ohio Poet of the Year” for her latest collection Invisible Fish (Dos Madres Press) Dos Madres also published David James’s recent collection, if god were gentle, and will be publishing Greg Rappleye’s collection Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds.

Still a few spots for The Lost Lake Writers Retreat. It’s such a beautiful setting, almost too beautiful to be able to write anything. It’s an R and R spot. You can write when you get home after being uplifted by everyone there. Check it out!

Mary McSchmidt will read from her new book Uncharted Waters: Romance, Adventure, and Advocacy on the Great Lakes, Holland Barnes & Noble Bookstore, 10am on Saturday, September 22.

Kristin Brace will be reading from her collection Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin from Finishing Line Press, Wednesday September 26, 6:00pm at Books & Mortar Bookstore, 955 Cherry Street SE, Grand Rapids.

The Hope College Visiting Writers Series will be hosting writers Matthew Baker, Anne-Marie Oomen,, Linda Nemec Foster, and painter/illustrator Meridith Ridl. Thursday, 7pm, in the concert hall of the Jack Miller Music Center.

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Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague 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.

Oxbow Workshop!

Hi there, one and all–

My daughter Meridith Ridl and I will be teaching a class at Ox-Bow July 9-12, from 10am till 12:30. The max number of participants is 12. There are some openings. We’d sure love to have you join us.

This is an Art on the Meadow Class. We’ll start each day with some directed writing that you will enjoy, especially because you can write any way you like: fragments, notes, lines, sentences, prose, poetry, chicken scratches . . .  Then we’ll turn to coordinating what you wrote with a visual artwork.

Each day will be different.

To find out more and sign up, here’s what to do:

Register at http://www.ox-bow.org/art-on-the-meadow-day-course-registration

Or you can call Ox-Bow at 269-857-5811

Meridith and I would love to spend the week with you!

Gaslighting

Growing up in a small town (population 1,200) things were uneventful save for the ordinary disturbances of any kid’s life. I was a coach’s son, played baseball and basketball, hung out with my pals, visited Gramma each weekend. My parents were parents of the 50s. We went to church, assumed God was love, Jesus was loving, the Holy Spirit was inconceivable. I don’t recall ever talking about “right religion.” It was the 50s: you didn’t talk about money, religion, politics. You were nice.

I was in youth group at the church. We played a game called Bible baseball where you were tossed a question and if you got the answer right, you got a hit. Once I was asked how many sins Jesus committed. I said, “One.” I was asked by our kindly minister why I said that. I said, “When He went off to the temple, he didn’t tell his parents where he would be.” It was that kind of childhood.

And then along about high school time our church hired a youth minister. He was charismatic, recruited several of us to meet with him several times a week for breakfast, took a deep interest in us. Before long we were praying together and he was teaching us about the “Truth” of Christianity. I’d love to tell you his name. He stole my life and after a while my very self.

Today there is a psychiatric term for what he did–Gaslighting.

45 is a gaslighter. He says the news is fake. He turns those who care about people into enemies of the state. He makes lies a means to an end. He calls revenge patriotism. It’s all about him. You don’t need me to tell you this. The youth minister was a gaslighter. He terrified me with damnation until I realized that I had to be converted. Soon he had me convinced that certainly all my friends, along with all the little town — help your neighbor, church going souls — were not real Christians. In the diction of 45, they were fake Christians.

This “correct Christianity” had nothing to do with Jesus, and a lot to do with double binds, terror, brainwashing, and the inculcating of a cult. Gaslighting by its very definition. All of us who contradict 45 are the evil ones. Lindsay Vonn after her stumble at the Winter Olympics received a deluge of tweets (I hate that word. Poor Chickadees!) declaring that this happened because of her criticism of 45 and her saying that if she won Gold she’d not go to the White House.

I went off to college. How’d that go? My sophomore year, my whole cruel gaslit psyche broke into a thousand pieces. After class one day, my roommate found me catatonic. Thirteen shock treatments, five stays in four different psychiatric wards, years of panic attacks, depression and PTSD followed — that’s how it went.

That so-called Christian minister and his like–ie. 45–always wash their hands of anything they inflict. It’s our fault. We’re wrong. We’re believing fake news.  Kinda like the 1% who have never pulled a weed from their multiple gardens saying it’s the poor’s fault, that they need to work harder for their money.

We’re being gaslighted. Know it, and resist.

After the Thirteenth Shock Treatment

I asked for two fried egg sandwiches
and a blueberry milkshake. I got soup.
And it was raining so instead of trying
again to read Middlemarch,

I lay on my side and watched the rain
glide down the window. I used to love
to go outside. My sister was a high school
cheerleader, someone everyone loved

to be around—if anything was good,
it was great. I needed to know. My God
spoke only in doubt. The nerves at the ends
of my fingers never slept, and when my fists

bloodied my forehead, only the comfort
of bandages let me look out across
the parking lot, out over the vans, Audis,
and pick-ups into the trees where I could

see how the leaves held to the limbs.
At home my father stayed alone in his
gardens. My mother carried her knitting
to a neighbor’s and talked about dinner.

–Jack Ridl
First published in Talking River
 

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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!

Morning with Dogs

Today is Charlie’s 14th birthday.

Well, we don’t know his exact birthday, but 14 years ago he came out from behind the counter at the shelter, on the day after Valentines, and wagged his way our way, landed in Julie’s arms, nuzzled her easy to nuzzle nose, and came home with us.

Charlie is somewhat of a beagle. He was on his last try, meaning he had been returned to the shelter twice and a third return is the dire opposite of a charm. For weeks we pretended we were in a children’s book: Take Charlie to the car and he was sure he was being returned and would throw up; make a mistake on the kitchen floor and we were sure he was pleading, “I’m sorry. Please please give me another chance.” He’s still hand shy and terrified of kids or anyone under five feet tall. You can imagine what happened to the little guy before we claimed him.

Now he has a ten month old sister, a Spinone Italiano, and they are best buddies, Charlie allowing himself to be another of her umpteen dog toys: Drag me along by the collar–sure. Pull my tail–why not? Knock me over in the snow–what could be more fun? They sleep side by side — with us of course — causing us to sleep the sleep of contortionists. (Dog trainers, stop shrieking. Vivi and Charlie are family. Those accusing us of anthropomorphism and sentimentality, you are right. And be damned.)

Charlie sits on command. He’s deaf now, but raise your hand above his head and he’ll sit. So-called VP Mike Pence sits on command, too. He’s also deaf. Charlie is in a way an immigrant, has no papers, and we didn’t return him. He also loves unconditionally.

Morning With Dogs

The old dog won’t get up. The pup
is yelping. We want to sleep another

hour, half an hour, fifteen minutes.
We are old dogs, too. But the pup

is hungry and the light
is crossing the evergreens and now 

that we have found our way out of bed
and on to the dogs’ bowls, the old dog’s

eyes open. The coffee—timed when
to perk is dripping through the grounds.

And though wanting still to sleep, we
divide the morning’s rituals: filling

the feeders for the rampant demands
of chickadees, finches, the one downy;

letting the old dog out first to pee
unencumbered by the pup’s romping

plea to play. This is the opening of our
every day. And we go on, the past

always tugging us back into regret.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville 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!

After Reading Dom John Chapman, Benedictine Abbot

There are times for those who pray that it doesn’t seem possible. What words would one mutter in response to a horrific sorrow? Silence may be the most sacred of all prayers. I often think that prayer is there to lead us into being prayerful. Perhaps that’s one way to stand in opposition to what assaults all that is good and to overcome that which separates the sacred from the everyday. This week’s poem tries to enter that way of being.

After Reading Dom John Chapman, Benedictine Abbot

“Pray as you can; not as you can’t.”
My prayers will sit on the backs
of bedraggled donkeys, in the sidecars
of Harleys, in the pockets of night
watchmen, on the laps of widows.
They will be the stones I walk by,
the smudges I leave on anything I touch,
the last place the last snow melts. They
will be brown, weekdays, potato pancakes.
They will stick to the undersides of porches,
docks, dog paws, and carpets. When I’m sick,
my cough will carry them. When you leave
in the morning, they will sink into the bed,
the sofa, every towel. I will carry them
in the modesty of my feet. Everything
will be praying: My dog will be petitioning
for mercy when he stops to sniff a post.
Every window in our house will be
an offering for supplication. The birds
at the feeder will be twitching
for my sins. I will say my prayers
are bread dough, doorknobs, golf tees,
any small and nameless change of heart.
When I forget my prayers, they will
bundle up and go out on their own
across the street, down into the basement,
into a small town with no mayor where
there is a single swing in the park. When
I forget, they’ll know I was watching TV,
the sky, or listening to Basie, remembering
the way my mother and father jitterbugged
to the big band station, he pulling her close,
then spinning her out across the green kitchen floor.

—Jack Ridl

from Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

Prayer

Comfort often gets a bad rap. It strikes many as avoidance, or that which the privileged seek or have, or it gets attached to the odd term “comfort zone,” as if there is some area we can go where we aren’t going to be troubled. How can one get up in the morning and expect to find that? It’s where the snipe hangs out.

The comfort we deserve now is that which gives us comfort within our distress. Kinda like that old sweatshirt, or soup, or, that person who doesn’t leave when there is nothing to say.

This week’s poem, I hope, speaks to the kind of comfort/comforting we deserve, perhaps especially now.

Prayer

There are those who know
the world without words,

not even a murmur or
a breath. Within the modesty

of presence, a prayer
could be green, tattered,

cold, alone as a possum
crossing a back road. It’s

the touch of the still. It’s
where we are Amen,

Shalom, Namaste—it’s our
there, here, our forgotten

habitat of yes. We become
sigh, our “I” the wet dog,

the sparrow nesting
in the anonymity of brown.

–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!