The Crank Collector

I’ve a wonderfully warm-hearted, well-read yoga instructor, Ami. On Monday Ami suggested that if any of us were planning to make New Year’s resolutions, that we consider changing the word to intentions. As I sat there cross-legged, palms up, the wisdom of that arrived immediately.

When with Ami, we smile as over and again she says, “Your intention is to stretch your right leg as far across the left held straight as you can.”

A resolution is a decision one must stand by. Once broken, you have to admit failure in one way or another. “I resolve to go to the gym three times a week” often leads to “I can’t right now. I have to go to the gym.”

An intention leaves room for the welcoming of change. “Yeah, I know. I intended to go to the gym today. Then my neighbor came over, needed to talk.”

Resolve!!! There’s something harsh, unbending, non-fluid, demanding, set in concrete, must be OBEYED, If-I-don’t-I’ve-failed about it. Also something I’m-sorry-but-that’s-just-the-way-it-is about it.

“Intend.” It feels kinder, forgiving, fluid, even softer.

To solve? or To tend.

And no, I emphatically do not believe that all good intentions pave the path to Hell. In fact, I believe that resolutions more often do. The old “I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is. Can’t change it now.”

“Resolved” is not benign.

Last week I mentioned the terrible, destructive injustice done to four beloved music teachers at Hope College, where I taught for 37 years. From the beginning it was obvious that those out to destroy the joyful and life-giving intentions of these four were most emphatically resolved to do them in.

What’s left now? Well, thousands of students are enjoying enriched lives given to them by these four. But, though their good work lives on, this wreckage can’t be healed, fixed, re-solved. And the bitterness is spreading, rapidly.

These four teachers worked with their students with loving intention, the intention being the enrichment of each student’s days. One does not demand that a student be resolved to master Bach, Baez, or Ellington. That leads only to failure or stagnation. These dynamic and encouraging teachers’ intention was to time and time again enable each student to be with and grow with whatever music they were studying, each time new and renewed.

The Crank Collector

I’d love to rust.
Just sit there
turning into air.
I put cranks
on anything. See
how I put one on
that lawn deer.
I wasn’t sure where
to fasten it. When I
found this old stuffed
chair, I had to put
a crank on it. I
thought this stump
should have one.
And that one,
on the rowboat, I first
put on our bed. I find
cranks everywhere.
They just turn up,
in the woods for instance,
behind a garage. I found
one once in a cemetery.
The one on the side of
the house, I found
digging in my garden,
planting some spurge.
There are a couple
thousand kinds of spurge.
That crank there’s
a double handle. You
can swing it arm over
arm. This one, I painted
green before I stuck it
into that window box.
And I took that one from
my grandmother’s attic.
I thought she’d like it
fastened to her Bible.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville Review

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. 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.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

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

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Suite for the Turning Year

I have so enjoyed hearing from you. If you have left a comment on one of these posts, I have responded there to your response. Just wanted you to know. I’m not sure if you are notified.

Seldom here along Lake Michigan do the seasons move gradually one into another. Only a week ago, the temperatures were in the benign low 70s. One day we walked without a coat, the sky deep blue and uncluttered by rain clouds. Then before we could get out the scarves, the temperature sent us for sweaters, space heaters, gloves, and roused the angst of shovels.

We are coming upon a terrible anniversary. It’s hard, when so many are being hurt so profoundly, to suggest that this will pass. But the seasons do come along. If we are lucky, we will breathe through to the other side. Whatever that holds.

The following is a longer poem, but maybe you will find it warm within and want to linger.

Suite for the Turning Year

Sometimes when the dogs are asleep,
and the whole world seems quietly
poised between green and brown,
when everything is lascivious with
leaves—the ground, the porch floor,
the holly bushes, even a few last trees–
you can see a glimpse of the way
the clapboard house was set within
this woods, almost see them nailing
the sills under the windows and
carrying in the kindling. The air
sifts across your forehead, and you
look up, hearing the chill jabber
of the chickadees, the quick
scattering of chipmunks, and
in the anonymous distance,
the disappearance of the sound
of children or was it a car? There
is no need for a letter in the mail,
no thought of putting away
the pots of yellowed impatiens.
Just this little time and
perhaps, a little more.

Feeling this way in the afternoon.
Not because it’s November. The burnished
landscape lends an invitation to sit,
a blanket across knees that once bent
and knelt to plant a hundred bulbs,
pull a thousand weeds. This month’s
brown cold is welcome. Within the calm,
there is no guilty need to do, no frantic
thought that one had better take advantage
of the long day’s light. Oh, the dogs still
need their walk. And there are dishes. But
we can listen to the radio, can watch the slow
breathing of the cats, look for this year’s
yearlings as they cross the hill behind the house.
Still the world must make space for us
to sit, walk, sleep, give up itself to give us
room. Later this afternoon, after I build
a fire, we’ll pull down our book of maps,
imagine our breath is giving something back,
alchemizing oxygen into gratitude even though
we are an inconvenience in the world.

The sun beats down
somewhere else
and the moon is lower
than the tops of the trees.
The cats come back from
their prowl and curl up
in front of the back door.
Coming up the street,
the headlights on the night
shift worker’s car turn
into his driveway. We
can hear the refrigerator,
the pump in the basement,
the fan in the bedroom
upstairs. If there are
ghosts, they have only
our silence and the last
of the moon’s borrowed light.

Light lies on the oriole’s nest,
fallen empty in the euonymus.
Strands of lobelia hang over the edges
of the chipped terra cotta pots
on the back step. There’s an old
novel on the kitchen table, one cat
asleep under the hanging basket.
On the porch a watering can
is giving in to rust. The cracked pink
flamingo stands bent on its iron legs.

Two days of soft snow lie
under the moon’s stolen light.
It’s early winter. Now a quiet

accumulation of cold comes
in its slow way. I wait
for stillness, its stay. Why

think of winter in winter?

Maybe to follow my father
through the old grass into
the deer’s long walk across the snow.

Sometimes when the snow
is nearly deep enough
to keep us home, we stay
in anyway, carry in kindling,
build a fire, unfold blankets,
and stack the books we open
now and then. Next to us
we set a pot of coffee, add
a log when we must. Wind
passes, whirling little lifts
of snow against the window.
The dogs sleep as if we’re gone.
Others have to leave. We know.
The mail will arrive at noon,
the newspaper by evening.
It won’t matter as much.
After sleep, there will be ashes
under the grate, a little less
wood to burn, more or not
as much snow. We may
play some Lester Young
and Etta James, let his sax and
her voice smolder in the coals.
How good it is to be in here,
on the couch, the dogs asleep
against the pillows at the ends
as if we are safe in the great
Kingdom of Rain. Death
with its lisping end rhymes
stands under an umbrella.
The rain against the windows
is a language, its assonance
an uninvited solace. Cold
will come again. We can’t
move south. We have sweaters.
We depend on a shovel
and the neighbor’s plow.
We depend on music, on
knowing we no longer
need to say we love one
another. Love is Emanuel.
This rain. The leaves.
This music on the radio
is music on the radio.
The dogs sleep with
their names. These leaves,
this music, this rain.
–Jack Ridl
First published in The Louisville Review

Published subsequently in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)