Last Chores of Fall

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. After this year with 45 it’s simply too easy to be ironic, snarky in response to what is to be a time of gratitude. I’m thinking of the idea of negative space, how what’s not there can be a good and accentuates attention to that which is worthy of attention.

Certainly deserving attention–each of you. This poetry project has become much more than I could have imagined a year ago when “I just had to do something.” I have heard from you, you from everywhere in the States and abroad. You have sustained this heart and writing each week has brought an ineffable sense of connecting with you and hoping to be a tiny support to you in your days.

I send this out not to a mass, but to each of you. That’s precisely how it feels.

My thanks this Thanksgiving and every day,

Last Chores of Fall

The trace of November lingering
along the ridge behind our house,
the exhale of yellow-gold
within the stagger of oaks.
tells us it is time to move inside,
let our blood return to its quiet
wander, the year now browning
toward a sudden frost. This
afternoon I will slowly uproot
the impatiens, tossing
their gasps of pink, white,
and salmon into the dark
of the compost pile. Remembering
to bend at the knees, I’ll carry
the cracked and chipped pots
back to the garden’s shed,
stack them, letting the clay
of one pot settle into the dirt
in another. I’ll bring in
the geraniums, their twisted,
leggy stems nearly leafless
and cut them down to hopeful
nubs, then set them on the sill.
The dogs will watch as I wash
and dry the trowel my father
used for thirty years. Each
year he added another row
or two of flowers. I’ll hang
the trowel on its rusty nail.
The dogs will lift their mysterious
noses into the changing air, into
the smells of mud, moldering
leaves, the scent of approaching
snow along the stream below
the barren ridge. Then I will
turn back to the house, the sun
burning down early into its setting.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Rattapallax

 

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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)

Sorting Through the Records

I wonder what my mother would be thinking about these times. When she was pregnant with me, and her husband was at war, she lived with her mother and father, a father she adored. He died two weeks before Christmas, 1943. I was born in April, 1944. My father was serving as a Captain in the Army and stationed in the Philippines. When the war ceased, he came to a country where the dignity of the office of the President was assumed.
Today is her birthday.

 

Sorting through the Records

“I’ll toss the ones I’ll never listen to,”
my mother says, “or give them to Grace
who’ll sell them at the Lutheran Home.”
I can see my mother dusting each record,
setting aside the ones she doesn’t remember,
finding ones that take her to the dance floor
where she jitterbugged, fox trotted, slow
danced with my father. “I can still see us.
Dancing to ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams.’
My dress had polka dots. I know that’s dumb.”
It was 1940. The war was waiting
for my father. He graduated, the next day
took a bus to boot camp, became the captain
of a black company and slogged through the mud
of France and Belgium, then into the jungle rot
of the Philippines. Through Basic, he ate, slept,
bathed with the white soldiers, used the whites only
toilets, drank from the fountains just for whites.
At the day’s end, he saluted his men,
then dismissed them to their sergeant. “I thought
that’s just the way it was,” he said only once,
his brow furrowed like the rows the tanks cut deep
in the camp dust. Every week, he wrote my mother
ending always with the same PS. “I know this war
will never end.” She waited. One New Year’s Eve
he sent her violets from France. She pinned them
on her coat, stood outside, listened to the clang
and clamor of midnight. Tonight she’ll play
Frank Sinatra singing “I Bought You Violets
for Your Furs.” Later in the week, she’ll go
to her line dance lesson with some friends.

First published in Harpur Palate, 2005
Collected in 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!

Broken Symmetry

What can one say when it feels as if even when we wake to a day that begins in our calm going about what we do every day, some unfathomable shock splits us off from fully attending to our own loved worlds?

Broken Symmetry

Angels never have to worry
about their wings: lose a feather here
or there, a new perfection floats down
across the landscape, catching itself
on its cousin the tree branch, landing
on its second cousin the leaf, or even
along its third cousin twice removed,
the blacktop highway. There is so much
symmetry that in the mirror your left
side resembles your left side even though
it’s never quite the same as your
right. Go deeper. All the cells split
into identical ice dancers, all
the electrons spin the same bacchanal.
Only the broken reveals, gives
the universe its chance at being
interesting, says a door is not
an elephant, the moon is not a
salad fork. So, break the bread
in two, drink half the glass of wine,
slice the baby down the middle, cut
the corner, divide the time. Tonight
the moon will once again reflect the sun’s
monotonous dazzle, and the old light
making its dumb way to us, will break
our symmetry of coming home,
of passing on the street.

–Jack Ridl
First published in Field Magazine

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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!

Some Notes I Took This Morning

It’s just too complicated: we can’t freely speak, stand, or kneel for some things but we can for other things. I can’t keep it straight. I need a list.

Here’s a list–

Some Notes I Took This Morning

Some say naming affirms one thing
from another; then we see.

Light on the day lilies. That’s a name
I like. I hadn’t realized that before.

Snow. Snow. Snow.         Snow.

Our dog pulls and twists
and pushes and scrapes
at the blanket on the day bed
then lies down.

Throwing things away is good. Not
throwing things away is also good.

Am I naming?

The dissonance of birds singing
braids the air. Kingfisher and song sparrow?

Sometimes I know why I wash the windows:
I hear voices.

There cannot be a better word for lunch than lunch.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Talking River.

*****Friends, Richard Raubolt, Ph.D has produced a moving documentary film, Born to be Heard, in which members of the LGBTQ community talk about how the election has impacted their lives. To learn more about the film and perhaps have a showing, contact Richard at  r.raubolt@gmail.com *****

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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!

Over in That Corner, the Puppets

I’ve talked with many who are experiencing a sense that their days of small and gentle moments have been sabotaged.

Below is a poem that arrived out from those conversations.

And here are two books that might be a comfort and support:

Poetry of Presence edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai & Ruby R. Wilson (Grayson Books). This anthology leads you into a beautiful connection with what matters in your every day.

Braided Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. A member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer in lyrical prose leads us to realize that when we listen to the languages of the earth we come to understand its generosity.

 

Over in That Corner, the Puppets

–for Naomi Shihab Nye

Even when the weather changes,
remember to pet the dog, make
the cat purr, watch whatever

comes to the window. If you
stand there long enough,
someone will come by,

a stranger perhaps, one who
could be more, but needs
to keep walking. Hello

is likely all you can say.

–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!

 

Listening to Baseball on the Back of the Boat

The hurricanes. Now devastation comes in threes. Julie has spent her days trying to help our Key West friends both on and off the island stay in touch, find who and what they needed to make it through, ease their hearts.

We are ever grateful to those of you who checked on us. Your caring sustained our shocked hearts as we waited with only thoughts of the worst — as did everyone.  Thank you.

As of today no one is allowed back on the island for probably 7-10 days. There is the overwhelming need to tend to roads, bridges, provide clean water, deal with sewage, restore power, bring in gasoline, medical supplies, food, assess damages. The teams on the ground are making amazing progress. But it’s hard to wait to return.

And of course at this time, most everyone is thinking about how it could have been worse and how many millions are worse off than those of us who are getting up this morning to another day with food, shelter, pets, friends.

Here’s a poem I composed to somehow fit with the disaster–

Listening to Baseball on the Back of the Boat

The Pirates are up 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth.
An hour ago, I watched a rehabbed houseboat
being towed across the bight and into its slip,

the owners Pittsburghers who wandered down
into the sun and humidity of Key West. The water’s
dappled oblongs of light ripple laconically and

the sky is all but gull-less. Tonight the saved
boat’s owners will couple again—perhaps—
the same sun setting its lower light through

their new windows. Now it’s the seventh inning.
I don’t know why I’m listening. Maybe I am
twelve. Maybe they are seventeen again finding

themselves in an old new boat, surprised
that saving it has maybe saved a twitch of
them even though this was never in the plans.

A Dodger just homered with two on
making it 3-2. I look back across the water,
watch four cormorants dive, surface, dive.

–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!

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!

After Hearing the Professor Say, “She’s Just an Average Student.”

School has begun–again.

It won’t be long until the words “average student” will be applied to many a student, whether that student loves to learn or could care less. Is there any way to banish this misapplied word? What really does it mean? Was Buddha an average Buddha? Jesus an average Christ? Let’s help Nancy be Nancy and help Carl be Carl.

As Dr. George Bleasby, my beloved novels prof, would instruct us: “Love the stuff.”
In my college there is–or was–a three-by-five card for each of its English major graduates. Mine read, “Among the finest writer/reflectors we’ve had, and by far the worst objective test taker we’ve ever seen.”   That’s A and an F, which averages to C, which means average.
I don’t know what that means. But I know plenty who do.
The title of the following poem is something that will be muttered in schools all year long. Sigh.

I know I offered it before. Well, here it is again–

After Hearing the Professor Say, “She’s Just an Average Student.”

How great never to be that bully
excellent. Not even the bland
and shy acolyte good. Average,
simply average like all the robins,

jays, junkos, chickadees. Even
wood ducks, those charmingly
helmeted harlequins who never
arrive without floating a surprise

over any creek or pond, are average
when it comes to wood ducks.
Elephants unless they rival the heft
and height of Jumbo are, well, average

elephants. Experts, of course, determine
what is above average, whether elephant
or student, while trillium, sweet woodruff,
owls, moles, golden rod, and thyme hold

to the way they became. They cannot rise
to the rigor of demand or slough off into
a lower caste. Those who know say
wedding veil is indeed an excellent vine,

argue its worth over, say, honeysuckle.
But wedding veil is always wedding veil.
Wisteria is wisteria just as, let’s say kudzu
is kudzu, the former cascading its blossoms

down and through a pergola, the latter climbing
and twisting its way around a tree’s trunk
and on into its branches. So, for all I know,
I am an average coffee drinker spending

an average early morning watching
an average squirrel searching for
average acorns in our average yard,
readying for yet another average winter.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Chariton Review

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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!