Instead of Planting Roses

I’ve been wondering lately about the word “best.” Why is it used so often instead of, say, “valuable.” A few weeks ago in The New York Times, David Orr told us which were the ten best books of poetry published in 2018. First I wondered how Mr. Orr found time to read the thousand or so books of poetry published in 2018. Then I wondered what his definition of best was and about his criteria. Neither accompanied his article.

That’s when I started brooding … about why for so many things “best” even matters?

What’s the best restaurant in town?
What’s the best religion?
Which of your nine cats is your best cat?
Since all the snowflakes are different, which is, at least for now, the best snowflake?

Mary Oliver passed away last week. She was our poet of yes.

Was “Wild Geese” Mary Oliver’s best poem? Or was it “The Journey”? Or, or, or? If you Google her, you’ll discover a site that lists her “best” poems. Not on that list were many that nourished the souls who turned to her poems for something much more important than deciding which was her best.

This is not my best poem…

Instead of Planting Roses

He’d work the garden until dark,
now and then looking up

to see if she was looking out
the window. She’d loved roses.

After two years, he gave up.
started sleeping on the left side,

and instead of planting roses,
filled the plot with tomatoes,

beans, zucchini, and asparagus.
The next year he added eggplant

then mixed in impatiens, pansies,
obedient plant, asters, autumn joy.

He loved to be surprised by a tomato
showing up within a mass of lobelia,

to discover peas climbing a tangle
of cosmos, lilies, and cleome,

to find a squash under the geraniums.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Poetry East

Subsequently published in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)

The Lake Michigan Mermaid illustrated by Meridith Ridl and written by Linda Nemec Foster and Anne-Marie Oomen has been named a Michigan Notable Book for 2019!

On April 1 (perfect!) (yipes, just 2ish months away) my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. 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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