Winter on the Seine, Lavacourt

You know there is this idea in the world that the French think very little of the Americans: Rude. Boorish.

When really, it’s just that our people often lack enough respect to learn to say, “I am sorry, but I don’t speak French,” when speaking to a French person. In France.

Two Stories–

How we got to be so fortunate as to get to be Meridith’s parents is beyond us. As a college senior she was awarded a Watson Fellowship for her project to paint as a contemporary woman in the footsteps of Cezanne from Paris to Aix en Provence.

While in Paris, on the street by Notre Dame, Meridith, or as she was also named when she was born — Mimi — was struck by a hit-and-run motorcyclist. A friend she’d made called us. I speak no French. Julie speaks just a bit. She called the hospital, said that her French was poor (in French) and was told not to worry. Julie then inquired about Mimi. “Oh the little red-haired girl. It’s very serious; however, the surgery has gone well and she will be fine. Please do not worry. We like her very much.”

We flew to Paris. We went to the hospital, said we were the parents of Meridith Ridl and want to take care of things. “Oh no. There is nothing for you to do but take good care of your daughter.”

“Thank you, but I mean that we want to take care of the cost.” “No cost. We care about the people who need us.” Pause. “Oh, I’m sorry. There is one thing: $25 for copying fees.” For her ambulence, her surgery and several days in the hospital.

Once Mimi was feeling well enough to walk, though for a while she felt panic at each curb we crossed, she and I went to Sainte Chapelle, the cathedral with the stained glass that seems to soar into a heaven.

We sat on a little green bench while about a dozen Americans were arguing, shouting at the woman who accepted the entry fee: “What the hell do you mean you don’t have change?! You have to have some god damn change!” It went on.

I turned to Mimi, said, “We don’t have the correct change.” “Don’t worry, Pere, we’ll speak French. All they had to do was apologize that they didn’t.” And we entered the wonder of Sainte Chapelle, change in our pocket.

A couple of days ago my sister returned from ten days in Paris. Almost every French person she encountered said to her, “We are so worried about you, about what is happening in your country. Sometimes we are scared of (45). Are you?”

Monet’s “Winter on the Seine, Lavacourt”

These blues were never in the world.
He would have had to let his palette

find this benign freeze, this landscape
still as a stoic’s paradise. The ice must

have lain beneath his frayed gray gloves
as he thrust his brush stiff across

the canvas. His red spreads from the sun.
Nothing else moves. In this infinity

of cold, this pitiless lucidity of fading light,
the dead walk across the river into town.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Mid-American Review

Published in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (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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Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

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But He Loved His Dog

24 million will lose their health care unless some in congress have a backbone and a twitch of caring for those they are sworn to care for.

When our daughter, Meridith, was living in France for a year on a Watson Fellowship to paint in the footsteps of Cezanne, she was struck by a hit-and-run motorcyclist and was taken immediately into surgery for critical head injuries: no paper work, no questions, no nothing but care, excellent care. When we arrived, we were told not to worry about any financial concerns. “We are here to take care of your child.” Total cost: $25 dollars. She continues to paint in the footsteps of Cezanne.

Coda: When Meridith first visited Cezanne’s studio in Aix en Provence, the curator was struck by Mimi’s awe and asked her to return in a couple days to talk. (Incidentally, there were no ropes to keep visitors away from everything: his bag, brushes, easel, everything.) When Mimi returned to her apartment we asked her about her talk. “She gave me a key and told me to come anytime to do my painting in the studio.”

24 million. Ropes to keep us away from everything. Get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts. Take a selfie with your microwave. Now as pass by those such as this man, I wonder . . .


But He Loved His Dog

Wednesday was trash day so he pulled
the garbage can to the curb. There
was never that much in it. Sometimes
he stood there for a few minutes, looking
down when a car drove by, looking up
at the trees in the yard across the street.

No one really knew if he knew anyone.
He had a dog. It wasn’t much of a dog.
It was an old dog, a mix too mixed
to know what all might be there. He
told someone once, “Oh I suppose
there has to be some beagle, maybe
some German shepherd.” Each noon
he walked the dog down to the corner,
left on Maple Avenue, three blocks
to the park where they would stop and

he would sit on a bench under a Beech
that had been hollowing out for years.
The dog lay at his feet, once in a while
lifted its head and sniffed. He never read
or talked except to say, “What do you
think of this day, boy?” and the dog
would wag its tail across the gravel path.

He would sit for most of the afternoon,
then tug on the dog’s leash and they
would walk on through the park, then
back home. He would bring in the mail,
toss it away. When the evening’s light
began drawing its shadow across his porch,
he would turn on the radio, open a window,
and sit outside, with his dog, listening
to the classical music station and the cicadas.

–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!