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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Keeping On

Tomorrow, Friday, inaugurates an uncertain future, one where, as of now, what we care about and many we care about will be affected in destructive ways. This week’s poem tries to offer what we can hold to.

Keeping On

But of course he couldn’t decide.
One thing always led to another.
Like the way the lady drove down the street.
No, more like the way the dog . . .
Well, whatever it was, it was
not nearly as traumatic as the way
the man two blocks over . . .
or was it yesterday’s mail? He was
lost, or so it seemed, until he learned
to plant onions amid the hollyhocks
and realized that sticking spoons
in one part of the garden attracted moonlight
long after the flowers had faded. And so,
he bought a hundred more spoons and
arranged them throughout the flowers.
He watered them. And watched them
stay the same. And let them
take the moonlight. And one day he realized
he’d forgotten about the lady
and the way the dog and the man two blocks
over and the mail. He found himself
smiling as he sprinkled the spoons.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Texas Observer
Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

“Keeping On” is not a suggestion to avoid the T-word. The governing image is the watering of the spoons — to care for that which creates light without fading.
Peace,
Jack

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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!

A Christmas List for Santa

“The [person] who refuses sentiment refuses the full spectrum of human behavior, and then just dries up. … I would rather give full vent to all human loves and disappointments, and take a chance on being corny, than die a smartass.” — Jim Harrison

 

A Christmas List for Santa

A Wednesday afternoon with no thoughts of Thursday

Three weeks in the woods, two by myself, one with my father

My father

Cups of tea, plates for sugar cookies, the first ones I ever made, the dough still sticking to my fingertips

Comic books from the late ‘40s: Little Lulu, The Green Hornet, Felix the Cat

Every creek from the upper peninsula of Michigan

The last page from twenty unpublished novels

The ease of a dog’s sleep

Five gold rings

A moon-draped evening among the birds in the hemlocks

Any snow-covered pile of leaves

Photographs, I don’t care how many, of my daughter just before she smiles
for the camera

Seven moments with the lucidity of cutting yourself with a bread knife

Whatever happens between what happens

The liturgy of an old monk laughing

–Jack Ridl

from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)

 

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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!