Burying the Poems

Poet W.S. Merwin wrote, “On the last day of the world I would plant a tree.”

Why does that always astonish me? I don’t know.

April 22 was Earth Day. But every day is Earth Day. Don’t you wish that everyone
would have their heart seared by the realization that the Earth is helpless?

Someone strips a forest, wants to mine a wonder of a wilderness and we can only say, “No.” They don’t listen. And the tree next to the tree being dropped can’t fight to prevent the clear cut, only stand there in line, next. And the wilderness can’t defend itself, can’t even build a wall to keep out the ones who have no value for the ineffable, the wondrous, the soulful, that which profoundly nourishes each of us, the helplessly real.

And we need bees. Years ago a neighbor treated me as worse-than-worthless
for planting flowers. “What the hell are you doing, wasting time with flowers!?!”

He grew only vegetables, so many that he threw more than half away. Today he
would have a hard time bringing about a row of zucchini. I never
replied to his criticism. It was useless: I was a wuss of an “aesthete.” Had I
suggested the need and health of bees, he would have sneered, “Bees schmees.

Wherever he now is, I hope he has learned that we need bees, that they too
are helpless, defenseless, that they too can’t put up a fight.

Each day is THE EARTH’S DAY. We visit.

Burying the Poems

The night is still, the leaves calm
as a corpse when the words tell me,
“Be like the poet Alexander Kutzenov.

Bury your poems.” He sealed them
in glass jars like the finest currant jam,
laid them down into the earth and covered

their graves with leaves. I will do the same.
Slender light from the crawl of worms
will slide through the glass, lie between

the lines, along language’s slow syntax.
The dreaming earth with its lost souls
of slug and beetle, ephemeral scat of cat

and dog, drifting scent of nosing possum,
raccoon, and deer will mulch the poems’
quiet stay, the rhythms alkaline, the meanings

dormant in their disfigured corms. Moles
will come, nuzzle each jar. Voles will spin
like dervishes around the lids. Winter will

bring the hard frost tightening the ground.
Then following the breakage of spring and
the blisters of summer, the fall will raise

no harvest. Nothing there. Nothing to be there.
Only the jars under the lost dark green of leaves.

—Jack Ridl

A remarkable collection of poems that embodies
these ideas is Earth Again by Christopher Dombrowski
(Wayne State University Press)

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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!

It’s April and It Should Be Spring

Welcome, welcome to all of my new German friends! This week has been overwhelming for me. Among the many joys of doing something that is for no gain is when the unexpected might, just might, come your way and becomes a gift you couldn’t imagine arriving.

This blog protest has created that experience. The gifts have come from you. You have created a world for me, one I realize is extraordinarily rare. My gratitude cannot be fully expressed. So today I want to offer two ways of thanking you. And when you read this, I want you to believe that I do feel that I am writing this post to one of you at a time. That’s very important to me.

These last few days have been overwhelming. Christian Zaschke’s article in the weekend edition of Sueddeutsche Zeitung about what I’m trying to do here reached far and wide. Some 200 new subscribers (Welcome!) from some 4,000 new visitors, primarily German speaking people from all over the world, Christian’s SZ fans from everywhere, arrived at at ridl.com, making that more than 27,000 people who have come to visit since I started this work, many to comment and/or email me. It’s become joyous new work to respond to each who have personally contacted me. It’s like having you all here, all around the kitchen table, and all attending to what matters to you.

This message from Albert Geiger is one of the many.  I think you will be as moved by it as I am, for all it implies for all of us:

“I am from Munich (Germany) and read yesterday the article about your activities in the SZ newspaper. Meanwhile I had the opportunity to visit your website and to enjoy some of your poems. The article and your poems touched me very much, resulting in a strong feeling of solidarity which drove me to write you these few sentences.

The article and your work reminded me vividly of my father who was one of the appr. 230,000 German resistance during the III Reich and who survived almost 11 years of imprisonment only because of literature and tender poems which gave him incredible strength. He even was able to write his own poems.

So I feel that your work is also extremely important for me, and I want to thank you for it.”

And here in an email response is the writer, Christian Zaschke:

“… if I may quickly throw a word into this group: this e-mail by Mr Geiger is extremely moving for me (I wrote the story). And if I may add: reactions in Germany to the text have been so kind, so gentle, so wonderful. I am overwhelmed (even though the readers all love Jack now and not the messenger – rightly so :-).

And it confirms what we all know: people have to engage. And to speak out. We can all reach out and touch the world.

I am so grateful for the time I have spent in Saugatuck and Douglas.”

My abundant thanks to my friend, Norbert Kraas, who contacted Christian about this project. This would not have happened had Norbert not been so kind as to do that. That’s Norbert — kind.

It’s snowing here and the wind is harsh. And it’s Spring. Yes, within this storm, there is Spring.

It’s April and It Should Be Spring

The gods are tired of tending fires.
Against the window, snow.

Each night the hour hand moves
time and us closer to the light.

No one wants to go out. No one
wants to stay in. And the snow.

Robins do their silly walk across the lawn,
dead grass dangling from their beaks.

Crocuses raise their purple risk
through the ice-crusted mulch of maple,

oak, beech, and willow. They last
a day. Clumps of daffodils stay

blossom-tight. We want to put away
sweaters. What would the saints do?

We haul in more wood. It is snowing.
Thursday and it is snowing and wind cold.

Winter’s wedged itself into a crack
along the equinox. We know, in time,

the trees will bud, the flowers rise
and bloom. We do what the earth does.

–Jack Ridl

And today? This is today. Here is hope.

First published in Temenos

Published later in an alternative form in Poetry East

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

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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!

Aubade for this Particular Morning

Appalling “idea” of the week: Rick Sanitarium saying that instead of wasting money on gun legislation, the money should be used to teach students CPR. What the hell does one say in response to that????

We don’t say, we do. On Saturday more than 500 of us marched behind brave and brilliant high school students in our twin towns whose population is just about 2,000 (many of us in warmer places this time of year).

Our posts (I say our posts because they are ours — I sit down each week and feel you one and all out there — I write TO you.) will be a feature story this weekend in Germany’s leading international newspaper, Süeddeutsche Zeitung. A couple of weeks ago, the New York correspondent for the paper, Christian Zaschke, spent four days with Julie and me, and with our friends, in order to write the story of these posts. It was a joy being with him as he experienced for the first time — the Midwest.

Before moving to New York, Christian was centered in Ireland during “The Troubles” and then for six years in London where he covered Brexit and wrote a best-selling book about it all. In addition to other best-selling non-fiction books, he has published collections of his columns and weekly stories. And he would be embarrassed by my saying this: people buy the weekend edition in order to read his articles.

When asked what Germans think of 45, he said, “90% can’t stomach him, and 90% think the U.S. has gone mad.” However, he did discover that while many of us feel we are, in fact, being driven mad, we are ably sustaining ourselves, working tirelessly for what’s right and what needs to be made right, and who should be in office come November. We are, and we are trying to find daily balance while we do.

Let’s do some deep breathing. And feel Spring trying to get here.

Aubade for this Particular Morning

The night was filled with rain,
lightning announcing our luck,
thunder rumbling its afterthought.

The dogs woke and quietly
came to the side of the bed.
The cat curled down between us.

Now in the damp of morning,
the leaves hold the early light
within each drop, the sun

rising into the sky’s still
depth of cloud, across
the gray scrim of the day.

It is quiet, not silent–quiet
as the sparrows, finches,
and warblers singing through

the dripping branches,
their notes a not quite startling
welcome as we open the windows,

brew the coffee, let our breath
return to its steady wander.
My mother began her mornings

saying, “Time for this day.”
Today the lingering
of an old rain. The chill

of 6AM. The musty smell
of books, blankets, and pillows
on the day bed on the porch.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Mid-American Review and subsequently published in Broken Symmetry, Wayne State University Press.

Kristin Brace, an exceptional former student, has her first collection, Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin coming out from Finishing Line Press. The collection centers around Kristin’s Gramma Rose. I read the work in manuscript. It will nourish your heart and soul. I promise. Finishing Line creates beautiful books. To learn more about Kristin and to order her book, go to kristinbrace.com.

The Man Who Wanted to Change the World

When sticks and stones break our bones, we’re pretty sure they will mend. However, words can hurt, and the hurt often lasts. Of course, words also can comfort, sustain, understand, lead to healing, to change for the good. I’ll stop there and invite you, if you want, to add to the list.

Here’s a guy who tried–

The Man Who Wanted to Change the World

He thought changing the nouns
might help. No one could say
“gun” in the same old way. You
would have to pause, say,
“What’s the name again? Oh,
yes, sassafras.” You would hear,
“Give me the wisteria to the car,”
or find yourself asking, “Why
don’t we add some whispers
to the bottom line?” He realized
this one long, hazy afternoon
while staring up into the trees,
into the wild acceptance
of their branches’ tangle. He
watched the light settle on
the leaves. He believed
the robins, vireos, and
nuthatches could see it.
Later, that evening drying
his dinner plate, he felt everything
around him leaving, felt himself
alone amid the sparkles of dust.
Before bed, he addressed, sealed,
and stamped a stack of empty
envelopes, one for everyone
he loved. The next morning
he made his first list: bread dough,
lightning, salt, candle, mourning dove,
while he thought of last laugh,
coffin, profit margin, highway, fact.

–Jack Ridl

From Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

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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!

Worn Morning

It has been a year since 45 took office. I thought it might be helpful to include here what generated this weekly post. We’ll add it at after this week’s poem.

                                               “Beyond Words?”

William Stafford said that at a certain point in our lives we live primarily in what he called “language events.”

He of course was reminding that words even more often than non-verbal events can cause lasting harm, or be a way into the good.

Words can never be taken back.

Every day each of us creates the language events that others live in.

Worn Morning
for Heather McHugh

How to say this in the words that now
are tired even of themselves

Water-on-the-garden
Sure foot along the river
Long note of the full moon

We listen, one hand resting on another

Yesterday, as the blanket of anger
covered us, the earth did its single task

Our sleep keeps coming back

Then—

Into the day

Into the day

Once after a full night of rain, after
the lightning and thunder, we walked out
looking at the glisten of the sky’s sure language

But today, how to find the last noun
and its only verb

Wind chime
Dust
Driftwood keeping to itself

Last night, my wife placed a handful of rose petals
in a cup on the wood stove
Now sleep takes her where she can be herself

Soft pulse of the sprinkler on the garden

Soon the children down the street
will be in their yard,
their voices saying why

The words travel along with their unhappy endings

The honeysuckle is a weaving of bees

–Jack Ridl

First published in Passages North

Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry

And here is my explanation (revised a bit) for this online poetry resistance project:

W. H. Auden announced that poetry makes “nothing happen.” And he has been misunderstood ever since his words were taken out of context. He meant that all art, all those who make art, be it successful or not, are engaging in a political act. They are not combating. They are revealing an alternative and creating a world to live in as real as any imposed upon us, creating a world we deserve to live in and actually can live in. Here are some of his words: “A mob is active, it smashes, kills. The public is passive or, at most, curious. . . . In our age, the mere making of a work. . . . is itself a political act. [All] making what they please and think they ought to make, even if it is not terribly good, even if it appeals to only a handful of people, they remind the ‘Management’ of something managers need to be reminded of, namely, that the managed are people with faces. . . .”

So each Thursday I post a poem and say a little something (that’s where self-consciousness enters) as a quiet stand against the anti-soul perched in our White House. Please don’t worry about responding. If the poem can be a friend for a bit, that’s plenty. And if you know of someone who would benefit, do “pay it forward.”

Namaste, Shalom, Amen, Whatever you say,

Jack

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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!

A Christmas List for Santa

Unless we lived there I wonder if many of us would have thought we would ever be terribly concerned about an election in Alabama. Waking up Wednesday morning to learn that a morally vacuous candidate had been defeated brought an odd and relieving joy. And in this time it renewed a bit of belief in what one would usually consider impossible. And so–

A Christmas List for Santa

A Wednesday afternoon with no thought of Thursday

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

My father

Cups of tea, plates of 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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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!

Repairing the House

Right after college our daughter received a year long Watson Fellowship for her project proposal: to paint in the footsteps of Paul Cezanne. She began in Paris, finished in Aix en Provence where–hard to imagine–the curator invited her to paint in Cezanne’s studio anytime she wanted. We visited her, and on the first morning after our arrival in Paris, I asked her to give me a walking tour.
We headed up the street and then down an alley where she said, “Look up at all the balconies.” I did. “See the flower pots on each one?”
“Yep.”
“What do you notice about them?”
“Uh, they’re beautiful.”
“Yes, but look again. They are all cracked.”

No one made a trip to the garden center to get new ones. Time and again we learn that something wonderful can happen, is preserved, evoked, when we recognize we really don’t have to repair everything, that some things when fixed lose their ineffable presence.

Repairing the House

We will learn the house can live
without our changes. We will

listen to its language. The cracks
along the stairway–they are sentences.

We will read what they say
when we go up, again when

we walk back down. When we
leave our sleep, our bed will hold

our place as the floor creaks under us.
If we fix the broken window, then

we will open it. The other windows
rise on their tracks; that’s enough;

one staying shut, tight, will still bring
light for any day, the others the breeze.

And we will learn to be with the ivy
straying along the back brick walls,

twisting itself into the mortar, each spring
a chunk or two falling into the holly.

We will feel a draft under the porch door.
We could block the cold from sliding

toward our feet. Instead, we will wear
socks, ones you made, while we sit facing

each other, reading on the sofa, its stuffing shifting
under us, the pillows giving way to what is left.

–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!

The Inevitable Sorrow of Potatoes

 

It’s been a year now, and as W. H. Auden said, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” That certainly hit me this morning as I realized that you and I have now been with one another for 52 weeks of the “In Time Project.”

Many countered what Auden proclaimed by saying that poetry is created, composed, and meant for “one human heart,” that there is where something can happen. That has been the hope all along for this project, not to combat but to counter 45.

My sister sent this photo below of the mugs that she and her friend use each morning as they have coffee with one another: one has coffee with cream, the other black. A metaphor there? Well, one can say that everything is metaphor. Perhaps this week’s poem is both what it is as well as revealing what these days for all of us are like. There’s the word: “like.”

The Inevitable Sorrow of Potatoes

Half way into the ubiquitous diminishment
that is November our dog and I are here
on the porch. The space heater parting

the cold, keeps parts of us warm.
But this hand holding this pen
feels the chill while a black-capped

chickadee, a downy woodpecker, and
the ever upside down nuthatch cling
to the feeder. In mid-June we turned

over our sun-spotted plot and settled
what would be golden-brown potatoes
into the company of worms and along

the bypass of moles. We believe in
the modesty of potatoes, the humble
spuds that carry the legacy of famine.

There can be no knowing if things can
molder deep, if a blight can singe
the mottled skins: scarring variations

on the darkening silence that too soon
will shorten the dog’s walk into pause
and sniff, a few steps more to another

sniff and then back home. A cardinal
is taking fallen sunflower seeds
back to his mate, head cocked

in the hemlock. One night we surprised
ourselves talking about potatoes, their
stark humility, how they offer to the sanguine

one percent an au gratin choice, to the hungry
a skin with a slap of butter. Last month
we sent our spades into their patch, carved

them out from the summered earth.
Their skins had blackened, marred
by what we could not know was there.

How silly to mourn this. November is Vermeer.
We know the kitchen will take the light, and
the potato soup will comfort, as it always has.

–Jack Ridl

Forthcoming in St. Peter and the Goldfinch (Wayne State University Press)

 

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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!

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

I.
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.

II.
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.

III.
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.

IV.
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.

V.
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.

VI.
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.
VII.
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)

Practicing Chinese Ink Drawing

Sometimes when it seems bleak out there, it can be helpful to see what black branches can bring. This week’s poem, below, arrived out from that seeing.

For a fine example of what three black ink lines accompanied by three written lines can do, I encourage you to look for Even Now, a collection by artist Jill Sabella and poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. The book is from Lithic Press, whose purpose is to publish “fine books for an old planet.”

Rosemerry will be giving a reading here in Saugatuck/Douglas, Michigan, at Roan & Black Gallery on June 23, 7pm, where you can right now find and purchase the lovely book/gift while their supplies last.

Practicing Chinese Ink Drawing

Outside this window
the trees
are black-branched,
covered
by an overnight
fall of snow.
Everything is still,
no wind,
no wind on its way,
and the sky—deep
blue, vague
behind a gray
scrim, mimics
the stillness
of this snow
while
my brush strokes
carry the feel
of listless
luck–languid
and precise
as the single file
tracks the trio
of toms trailed
this morning
into the woods
whose branches
and snow
and light
cannot be drawn.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Georgia Review

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