Living in the 21st Century

Two years ago today, I promised weekly posts as a contrast to 45 until he was out of office. I did not believe that two years later he would still be perched on his obscene and life-destructive dead branch.

This post could perhaps be seen not as a contrast, however, I truly mean it to be, and to draw attention to what has always been what this country has cared about with the hope that hope can be resurrected.

>>Joy alert: Following this post is a list of absolutely wonderful news, on the publishing front, of new works that can sustain you, fascinate, illuminate, educate in the most humane ways, and offer experiences you perhaps have not had. So either skip past the post first for joy, or know the joy awaits.<<

Over the past seven months I have learned what it’s like to be a campaign manager (through the woman I get to be the husband to — Julie) for a candidate with full integrity and also what it’s like to be a full supporter of four other candidates who carry what today has become too often an anachronism–that same integrity. And then to watch them lose to five candidates who revealed their lack of integrity by barely showing up, or accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from you-know-who so that they can continue to dismantle democracy and replace it with their oligarchy.

I have also learned what it’s like to be a helpless spouse who tries to do and say the right thing when there is no right thing to say or do. Sometimes I think it’s the curse we men carry who don’t blurt out the old “cheer up,” “get on with it,” “look on the bright side,” “some others won,” “we’re making advances in what matters” gene.

Last night here we watched our five local candidates, who both act on what they care about and have real plans (for accessible health care, budgeting to benefit those in need, safe water, reliable infrastructure, schools that give teachers salaries and classroom sizes that enable students to not only learn, but also become themselves rather than cogs in the machine that enable those who have no need to work to continue to have no need to work, the destruction of the planet, and more) LOSE to candidates who didn’t even campaign.

Imagine this, the people who WON refused to show up for forums. When asked by the press to answer questions for print, they didn’t. They accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from dark and corporate PACs — willing to have their corporate patrons tell them what to say and how to legislate. They lied outright about our candidates, which seems to be accepted practice under 45. They didn’t need to connect with anyone except tycoons, megachurches, gun fetishists, and any organization willing to tell their audiences, “vote for _______ or else.”

The people who gave five, ten, fifty, a hundred dollars to Julie’s candidates gave because they knew these candidates would work for what matters.

Those who backed the winners sustained their own selfish agenda. The winners oh so often say they care about us–with a smug simulacrum of honesty. However, that’s all: “I care.” The record shows they haven’t yet acted on this obfuscated word.

Let’s face it. The business of America is business.

I prefer the New Testament woman with only a few shekels who gave them all away.

I am staring now at my dogs, for whom this day is just another day. I want to be my dogs.

Living in the 21st Century

Long before there was this day
another day came. Maybe it rained
or there was a little sunlight. People

got up and did what they always do.
Birds sang and the cats wanted out,
or in. You and I weren’t here,

but the world didn’t know. Trees
grew and nobody noticed. Someone
was cruel. Someone else

tried not to be. Maybe the weather
shifted unexpectedly and plans
had to be changed. This morning

we watched our day begin. We
wondered if it would be good,
wondered if it would rain.

–Jack Ridl

Published in Broken Symmetry, Wayne State University Press


1. Greg Rappleye’s collection, Tropical Landscape with Ten Hummingbirds has been released by Dos Madres Press. That’s the same press that published David James’s moving if god were gentle. Leslie Harrison, finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry, says “The core of the book is a series of poems about the life and paintings of Martin Johnson Heade, and the poems, like the paintings, are intricate, gorgeous, and deeply, quietly felt. In range and scope this book is unique.”

2. Gayle Boss’s All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings, with stunning woodcuts by David G. Klein, has been published by Paraclete Press. Obviously this is a book for the Advent, Christmas, and Holiday Season. Richard Rohr writes, “Adapting to the dark and cold [each of the beautiful creatures in this book] announce…that through every dark door the creating Love of the universe waits.” And the late Brian Doyle, author of Chicago: A Novel, wrote “A wonderfully refreshing sidelong book that makes you stop and think and ponder and consider and contemplate and see not only Advent but your entire blessed life with new eyes.”

3. Jim Hanson’s 137 page — yes 137 page — poem About Florence has been published. Jim gave a recent reading of the entire collection, all composed in blank verse. He noted that there was an intermission.

All three collections can be ordered in the usual ways, found in area bookstores, or by contacting the authors.

AND–Mark Hiskes’s collection Standing with Alyosha has been accepted for publication, also by Dos Madres Press. Dos Madres recognizes these close-by, remarkable poets, all of whom know one another. What a joy!

And–a new weekly online publication has been created by Reka Jellema and Kathleen Schenk: Holland Weekly! It welcomes all writings about Holland and the area. As the editors point out, “It’s a new kind of journalism!” Check it out. I really think you’ll be delighted. Do consider contributing.

Alas I wasn’t able to attend the reading at Central Michigan University by honored German poet Eva Christina Zeller who follows these posts and has become an online friend. Eva lives in the same city of Tübingen, Germany, as dear friend Norbert Kraas. It was Norbert who introduced me to Christian Zaschke. The world is smaller than it feels.


Raking Leaves with the Gods

I’ve been raking leaves. I like raking leaves. We won’t get into the metaphorical experience of raking leaves. I just like raking leaves.

At the same time that I’m experiencing this rather inane mantra of reach–pull, reach-pull, Julie, whom I get to be husband to as best I fallibly can, is within the last two weeks of managing the campaign of Garnet Lewis for State Senate here in Michigan. Garnet isn’t even the opposite of 45, because she is for what matters. To compare Goodness to 45 is as much a waste of an intelligence as writing your first year college paper revealing for the first time the differences between Mother Teresa and Attila the Hun.

So the point: For months now Julie has been working tirelessly in behalf of what matters. Instead of economic greed, displaced human values, a despoiled environment, an educational system that makes it impossible for teachers and students, taxes that keep the non-working class able to continue to not have to work, and and and, she is working to prevent an inevitable loss of democracy and the environment to this unrestrained capitalism and a demagogue.

Yesterday I paused for several hours from raking leaves and texted a very civil message in behalf of Garnet to voters in our district. There wasn’t a pushy word in the text. It was actually more of an invitation, worded not much differently than “Would you like to come over for some wine and cheese?”

Among the responses I received were thoughtful, civil affirmations and responses saying kindly that they were for Garn or for the other candidate. Also among the responses were those using words that actually frightened me. Some were so coarse they are unprintable. Some claimed I was something that I had no idea existed. Some were downright cruel. I kept wondering, why? What turns a child who at one time likely played in the leaves into someone verbally monstrous?

My awestruck admiration for Julie soared. And I went back to raking leaves.

Raking Leaves with the Gods

For a month, there have been leaves.
Scattered over the pea stone paths

that lead us through the shade
of our gardens, beech and birch,

oak, ash and even larch leaves
lie, their ends dry and curling

toward their veins. I rake and
make believe I am a Zen-traveled

monk smoothing the surface, quieting
the loss into a calm within a heart’s

usual storm, the tines’ slow scrape
assuming silence among the stones.

In the branches birds sing. The cool
cloud-covered breeze is my Master

saying, Slow, slow. Move to the edge.
The lack of rain today says, patience.

The gods say, What is there to do?
This, I say. And they say, And this.

They stand their rakes against a tree,
gather in the Adirondack chairs along

the narrowing stream. Yes, there is
also this, I say, nodding toward the water.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Poetry East

Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

On April 1 (perfect!)  my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by 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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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.

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