Epilogue

Perhaps it’s the term ‘post-modern.” I don’t understand “post-modern.” I don’t understand “modern.”

I know some people who had an argument over when modernism began. It all but destroyed their friendship. When disagreements like that break out, I feel like offering an adaptation of a Mel Brooks response: Uh, you go on arguing, “I gotta wash up.”

Epilogue. Maybe we’re inhabiting an epilogue. I like that. Epilogues tend to have a sense of addition or addendum to a story and are often a gentle settling of things.

Yeah. I don’t want to dwell with you in a “Post-T Word” world. Let’s head toward an epilogue.

Epilogue

I’m working a Sudoku puzzle, one cat
in my lap and Mozart on the radio. I
didn’t catch what work, but I don’t know

much about classical music. I like it,
most of it, have it on all day, a companion
as I wander from room to room within
a life that may or may not matter. I
also don’t know much about cats. We
have two. They act as if they can’t believe
the other should be in the house. They hiss,
growl, swat at one another. The old dog
sleeps. The young dog stands between them.
It’s a cold day, patches of snow and ice.
There are birds at the feeders. There is
a clear sky, and the creek behind the house
drifts along as does the next piece on the radio,
something by Edward Elgar or maybe it’s
Vaughn Williams. This puzzle is impossible.–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville Review

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings 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!

What To Do Instead

Al Murtz was a folk artist… more of an outsider artist… no, more a guy who liked to paint on things.

My good pal Max Milo introduced me to Al. We visited him in Baldwin, MI, where his house was surrounded by every object imaginable, each painted by Al. Never a canvas. Always an object.

One time,  Doctor Scholl’s truck tipped and out spilled thousands of insoles. Al had them gathered up and dropped off at his place where he painted each one.

Hundreds of bright yellow railroad spikes with red-painted smiley faces on top greeted you in front of the house.

When a leak appeared in the roof, Al put an upturned rowboat over the spot, the boat painted all imaginable colors. In the back he had placed upright a set of bed springs, each painted, monoliths to something.

We asked Al’s wife why he did this every day, all day. She shook her head and said, “He likes to paint.”

What To Do Instead
Out here, the paint stays
between my fingers–a boat,
a long afternoon, this wide
and generous landscape.
I like the smells: grass, yellow,
the insides of old hats, rain,

the rot of logs and leaves.
I wonder about church.
I’d like to paint the pews.

I like every afternoon, how
the morning empties and opens
and birds and light come into it,

how the color moves north or
veers into my neighbor’s yard.
And I like where my hand goes

when the brush takes it across
a board or broken dinnerware,
a light bulb, shoes, baseballs,

those dinner trays there beside
the bicycles, or these stumps.
When I’m out here, it’s quiet

and the wind moves across my hands.

–Jack Ridl

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings 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!

To This New Child Breathing in the World

We have all heard, perhaps said, “It’s so hard to believe it’s the right thing to do, to bring a child into this world.”  And during this time, it’s likely said with all the more concern. It’s a loving concern, for the child. We all want our children to have a world that they deserve, not one they have to adjust to.

To This New Child Breathing in the World

When you look back
at your mother, her
father will come back

to play. The world’s
slow promise waits
for your walk, the next

chance to wander along
each day’s concert
of impossible notes. Your

mother, audacious with
love, is in your blood. She
will sleep in your bones. She

will look up into the sky’s long
reach and ask that you stay longer
than the day her father had, safer

than her mother lives. And you
will carry their fierce and loyal
quiet. Yes, you will bring him

back, and with them walk within
the light between the trees. You
will step to the edge of the garden

where they will see again
what Cezanne saw—no line
to separate, only the blend

of form, the definition of color,
the wild uncertain weight
of their hearts’ unruly kindness.

–Jack Ridl

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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!

In This Dark Time

On this the first day of June, my mother would always recite “What is so rare as a day in June. . .” Even after I came to Michigan, the phone would ring, I would answer and hear her recitation.

This week’s poem will be printed on a calendar created by Saginaw Valley State University in honor of poet Theodore Roethke who grew up in Saginaw. Roethke’s poem “In a Dark Time” led to this poem. Other than that, what can I say? It’s there in the title.

 In This Dark Time

Who will still dance within June’s bursting
open the doors to sing to Summer, “Come in!”?
The same sun has flung its one light across

the broken glass of stubble in the fields.
The seeds will soon enough be sewn.
If you live with an old dog, it sleeps

more hours than you even wish you could,
its soft breathing taking in and letting go
the air we never knew could fill with

what can take away the living mystery
of everything. The dog’s place is peace,
alone in the sovereignty of here. We

will dance, we who take the wheel
and the rake, who walk back to
the desk and home. The sky, steady

in its illusion, covers what the mind
can only stammer into song. This
we know: the old fiddler will still

play. The fertility of the fern will
again unroll itself always toward
the light. The loggerhead will

lie mute along the deep’s dark
ridge. The soil’s improbable hold
on what comes green will offer us

another chance to, if we dare, see.
Not merely look. See! And see again
that light will not forsake the tree.

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

The Dry Wallers Listen to Sinatra While They Work

When I was a kid we called it Decoration Day. I can still hear my grandmother saying, “It’s Decoration Day, time to put the little flags in the front yard.” I don’t know if I realized that the day was meant for decorating the graves of veterans. I do remember crossing the street from my grandmother’s house, into the little park and standing around the memorial there that held the names of those from the town who had served in World Wars I and II, my father’s name on one of them. He was the captain of a black company who was assigned to clean up after battles–both rubble and remains. Like most vets, he never talked about it. He wrote home always adding the PS. “This war will never end.”

The Dry Wallers Listen to Sinatra While They Work

This morning, my mother, here
for the holidays, is washing
the breakfast dishes, when Al, wiry,
coated with dry wall dust takes
her hand and says, “I bet you loved
Sinatra.  Dance?”  The acrid smell
of plaster floats through the room.
Frank is singing, “All or nothing
at all,” and Al leads my mother
under the spinning ballroom lights
across the new sub-floor.  He
is smiling.  She is looking over
his shoulder.  The other guys
turn off their sanders.  Al
and my mother move through
the dust, two kids back
together after the war.  Sinatra
holds his last note.  “It’s been
seven years since I danced,”
my mother says.  “Then
it was in the kitchen, too.”
Al smiles again, says,
“C’mon then, Sweetheart!”
biting off his words like the ends
of the good cigars he carries
in his pocket.  Sinatra’s singing
“My Funny Valentine” and
my mother lays her hand in Al’s.
They dance again, she looking
away when she catches my eye,
Al leading her back
across the layers of dust.

-Jack Ridl

First published in Poet Lore and winner of Say-the-Word Poetry Prize from The Ellipse Art Center, Arlington, Virginia. David St. John, judge. Also published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press).

The World in May Is Leafing Out

As we’ve been driving north from our little houseboat in Key West, we realize that we are also driving into Spring. It’s May, a wonder-full counterpoint to all that is trying to keep winter in our hearts.

The World in May Is Leafing Out 
It’s Matisse on a bicycle. It’s
a great blue heron coloring
outside the lines. The show’s
turned over to the aftermath
of buds. You can love
never thinking
this cliché could turn
to ice. Even nice
can be profound
as worry, even
the creek over the rotting log,
the pansy in the moss-covered
pot. The birds bulge
with song. Mary Cassat
throws open her windows.
Monet drags his pallet,
sits and waits for the paint
to spill across the patina
of his failing sight. Eric Satie
makes his joyous cling
and clang a counterpoint
to dazzle. The earth is rising
in shoots and sprays.
The sky’s as new as rain.
The stubborn doors swing open.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Listening Eye, Kent State University

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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!

The Man Who Made Towers of Beach Glass

Talk about a contrast with what the T-word is imposing on us…

This week marks the 35th anniversary of Key West seceding from the United States. The U.S. government had set up a roadblock at the only way in and out of the island in order to check every car for illegal immigrants and such. And so the mayor and citizenry seceded. International news! The motto: “We seceded where others fail.” The basic tenets on which foreign policy was founded: “The mitigation of world tension through humor, but at no ones’ expense, warmth, and respect.” The Conch Republic’s Army motto: “A farce to be reckoned with.”

This week we vote as many times as we want for the Conch Republic Royal Family, each vote costs a dollar, and the proceeds go to the Foster Children’s Fund. There’s a drag race down Duval (heels not wheels), a secession re-enactmment, passports for sale, a “bed” race, a have-a-drink-and-race-to-the-next-bar race, a pet stroll, and the longest parade in the world — all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

Yesterday we were talking to a fellow about why after living in many places, he settled in Key West. “No judgment except we do judge against cruelty.”

It’s true that one seldom hears the words “acceptance” and “tolerance” around here. I’ve always thought and taught that those words toward others are patronizing, a kind of self-righteousness, and well remember when arriving at the college being told, “We need a few people like you.” I was also told, “If you are going to be an academic, you have to stop dropping your g’s.”  I was droppin’ ’em. I realized that if I stopped, I’d be turnin’ my back on my culture.

The Man Who Made Towers of  Beach Glass

They reach green,
brown, blue, red
and sunlight clear.
He never adds
a piece larger
than his hand,
is glad when
he sees a head
tilt back, eyes
staring up into
the refractions
of heaven. He
asks everyone
who stops by
if they know
about beach glass?
“Water rolls the edges
smooth, rounds
them so they won’t
cut anything. Stand
here. Watch.”

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

Dailiness

Times such as these can erode our sense of mystery about being itself, just being. Of course in the West meaning is what holds a hierarchy of value. “But it’s meaningless,” we hear. Or “I really need to do something meaningful.”
Being is a wonder. It can be especially important now not to dismiss that there is no such thing as “merely” mundane. I have to admit to tiring of hearing lives devalued by some to “dailiness.”

Nancy Willard’s work steadfastly holds to recognizing wonder, the magic of what can be taken for granted. You may know of her A Visit to William Blake’s Inn. Nancy had a great personal impact on our daughter Meridith when she was young. And on this guy always.

This gives me a chance to say thank you to you, reading this, for sustaining this project, this journeyman in his own explorations of dailiness.

 

Dailiness

This morning after the angels had put on
their scarves and mittens and said their
goodbyes and headed out into the surprise

of the first snow, he put away the recipe
for crepes, washed the plates, the other
dishes, silverware, put the butter in cold

water, and poured a second cup of coffee.
The moon was not yet set at 8:30, and it
made him remember how he never wanted

to leave his grandmother, her house, her
porch, her lap where she would read
to him, often a chapter from Moby Dick

or a comic—Felix the Cat, Buck Rogers—
an Uncle Wiggly story, something from
the King James Bible. Today he knew

what lay ahead: He would feed the fish
in his little pond, cut back what he’d left
in the flower bed, get pumpernickel bread

and orange marmalade, then the mail, maybe
stop at Jane’s Depot and buy some new
warm socks. And he needed to decide

what book next to read. And what
to have tomorrow for breakfast when
the angels would be back around 7:30.

for Nancy Willard

 

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

Hit Man Responds to a Rejection Slip That Says His Work Lacks Lyricism

It’s National Poetry Month.  Always bemused me that they chose April, the month that T.S. Eliot called “the cruelest month of all.”  Of course here in Michigan it usually is rather disappointing. We welcome the Spring equinox as if the flower beds will suddenly burst into bloom. Like most who wander in their gardens, I head to the garage and lug out the pots, clean the paths, even haul mulch. And then the temperature drops like Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl, the drearies set in, and the weather ball says “Snow on Thursday.”

I have never once said, “Poet,” when asked, “What are you?” But in Ireland for some reason I said, “I’m a poet,” when asked by a fellow on the street the first day we were in Ballyvaughan. He brightened and offered, “Well, are ya now! Then ya must come doon to the pub this evening and read to us. That would be luvly! And over a pint or two, eh!”

No need to publish or win some award or hear “I liked that one,” or hope for approval. In the pub, a poem was as soulfully nourishing as laughter, a raised pint to Jimmy’s dog, or another round.

Hit Man Responds to a Rejection Slip That Says His Work Lacks Lyricism

“You know what happens
to anyone dumb enough
to be gawkin’ at stars?
Tell ya what I’d do–
throttle ‘em up against
a dumpster. We’d see
whose consciousness gets
raised; I’d hoist it higher
than a crack dream. Up
your lyric. Here’s what
you can do with your
elegiac. Epiphany this.
Who in hell’s runnin’
things? Some forehead
who can’t decide what
socks to wear? I bet
he says, ‘James, you
decide,’ then heads out
to dinner with the intern.
Well, I’d be glad to serve him
an anti pasta he won’t soon
forget, one he’ll be scanning
in his dreams. How about
he reads between these lines—
Time he learned he shoulda
been like his old man and
sold cars, or had the balls
to be a decent plumber.”

-Jack Ridl
First published in Waymark

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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!