My Brother — A Star

“The Necessary Angel” is what Wallace Stevens called the imagination. Which begs the question, when is an angel not necessary? We need them all right now.

The following poem seeks to embody what he meant. When poet/fiction writer/brother Gary Gildner read the poem he said, “This is when the sensibility of a poet arrived for you.”

My Brother—A Star

My mother was pregnant through the first
nine games of the season.  We were 7 -2.
I waited for a brother.  My father
kept to the hard schedule.  Waking
the morning of the tenth game, I thought
of skipping school and shooting hoops.
My cornflakes were ready, soggy.  There
was a note:  “The baby may come today.
Get your haircut.”  We were into January,
and the long December snow had turned
to slush.  The wind was mean.  My father
was gone.  I looked in on my mother still
asleep and hoped she’d be OK.
I watched her, dreamed her dream:  John
at forward, me at guard.  He’d
learn fast.  At noon, my father
picked me up at the playground.  My team
was ahead by six.
We drove toward the gym.
“Mom’s OK,” he said and tapped his fist
against my leg.  The Plymouth ship that rode
the hood pulled us down the street.
“The baby died,” he said.  I felt my feet press hard
against the floorboard.  I put my elbow on the door handle,
my head on my hand, and watched the town:
Kenner’s Five and Ten, Walker’s Hardware,
Jarret’s Bakery, Shaffer’s Barber Shop, the bank.
Dick Green and Carl Stacey waved.  “It was
a boy.”
We drove back to school.  “You gonna
coach tonight?”  “Yes.”  “Mom’s OK?”
“Yes.  She’s fine.  Sad.  But fine.  She said
for you to grab a sandwich after school.  I’ll see you
at the game.  Don’t forget about your hair.”  I
got out, walked in late to class.
“We’re doing geography,” Mrs. Wilson said.  “Page
ninety-seven.  The prairie.”
That night in bed
I watched this kid firing in jump shots
from everywhere on the court.  He’d cut left,
I’d feed him a fine pass, he’d hit.
I’d dribble down the side, spot him in the corner, thread
the ball through a crowd to his soft hands, and he’d
loft a star up into the lights where it would pause
then gently drop, fall through the cheers and through the net.
The game never ended.  I fell into sleep.  My hair
was short.  We were 8 and 2.

-for my mother and my father

–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!

Rainbow

The word Myth, poor thing. It’s been reduced to mean that which isn’t true. “It’s just a myth.”

Sigh.

But true myths are those that contain and maintain certain truths.

And poor Science, how it gets misunderstood, especially when “what happens when” is equated with “why.”

Real science, real art, real myth welcome us to mystery, wonder–humbling, awe-kindling, inspiring places to be.

The first lines of the following poem could appear to be in opposition to science. They aren’t. They are meant to challenge a misunderstanding of science, one that is presented in the epigraph that opens the poem.

And it’s raining this morning!

Say, mark your calendars if you are interested in attending “The Fourth Annual Reading at The Red Dock.” This year Thomas Lynch will join me on Tuesday August 8. We’ll get the reading underway around 6pm with live music leading us into the reading. Consider bringing a chair! And once the dock is full, it’s full. So early birds get the words.

Rainbow
There is no precise date at which mythology gave way to science.
–Carl B. Boyer, The Rainbow: From Myth to Mathematics

So science is the bully on the playground,
the guy who says Babe Ruth was just
a drunk, the kid who rolls his eyes
the day the trees all bud. You know elves
live under your porch, that God loves
puppets, that the wind comes from a witch’s
cave, and birds sing just to sing.  What if
Wordsworth, strolling along the lakes,
looked up, took out his pen and speculated
how the color came from light refracted
through the drops of rain that formed
around some dust? And what if Noah, crazed
with the smell of dung, the impatience of every
creature on the earth, what if this wild builder
of faith, when he saw that covenant of color
draping over his mad zoo, had tried to tabulate
the cubits in the rainbow’s length, forgetting
about the dove, the olive branch, dry land?
And what do we make of Philip, Plato’s less-
than-certain pal? He scribbled in his notebook
that the rainbow wasn’t stable after all; it moved
as the observer moved and somewhere
over the rainbow was farther away
than any bird could ever fly.
So if science is uncertain
as tomorrow’s weather, I think I’ll say
the rainbow, like most everything—this
poem, elephants, the hurricane along
the Georgia coast, my daughter’s scribbled
chalk across the sidewalk—is not just one more
worn, anonymous effect in cause’s long and
flagrant history. I’ll say the rainbow simply
comes. Light may bend, reflect, refract,
but why then color? Why Mozart
from a catgut string?  And why this morning,
when I saw that we were out of coffee,
did I look up and see you in the garden,
staking our tomatoes in the rain?

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Journal, Ohio State University
Subsequently in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

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Visit Roan & Black 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!

Elegy for Cousin Albert – a Circus Man

So many things we didn’t know were problematic turn out to be.

Recently Ringling Bros. announced their day is over. The Big Apple Circus closed.
I grew up with the circus. My mother had a cousin who was as close to her as a brother. He traveled all over with circuses, knew them all, knew everyone. I, of course, didn’t have any idea that it was a big deal to “hang out” with Emmett Kelly, Lou Jacobs, The Wallendas, Clyde Beatty, Unus, who stood on one finger. They were people in the back lot readying to go on. Then one day we watched Ringling unload their tent for the very last time. That was the first loss. From then on for me, a circus without a tent was not quite a circus.

I understand why it’s gone. A few will try to stagger along. But . . .

Elegy for Cousin Albert—A Circus Man

If you knew you were going to be taken in,
you were part of the great act, and all
the richer for your willingness
to suspend belief for the higher world
of jungle cats, exhausted jugglers,
jaded clowns, those who left their losses
in the back lot and paraded center ring
for seven months to lead us on—
to be performers while we sat.
We knew the fat came off the drunk
and drug-infested fly-by night
hard work of broken men
who’d pitch the tent then wait
throughout the show until
beneath the same old stars
they’d watch the dusty bull
pull down the center pole, bellow
to the night, and lumber out from
underneath the canvas floating down,
a shroud to lie, quiet, over the empty
lot. Later, housed twenty to a truck,
the men would sleep.
Somewhere,
on the road, Albert, now ashes
in his widow’s living room,
would think about the time when he
was six and rode the Ringling elephant.
God sears the heart with a single twinge.
Now the loss, the grief is just another line
of colored posters strung along the sideshow
urging us to pay to see Alice wrapped
in tattoos, Johnny Jungle eating bugs,
The Human Reptile, Alphonse tasting
fire, Erma swallowing swords, and
all of us who charm the snakes.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Journal (Ohio State)

 

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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 ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!