To Live with the Benedictines

After the incomprehensible insensitivity of this past week, I have been thinking with deep gratitude about Guy Martin, the remarkable man I worked for at Colgate University. Guy was a theologian, philosopher, man of depth carried gently. His presence was one of inexhaustible thoughtfulness.

Guy was infinitely patient with this anxiety ridden kid trying to come through on his first work after college.  One day I asked Guy what he as a kid told people when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He thought for a bit — he always thought for a bit before responding to any question or comment — then said, “I remember now that I always said that I wanted to be kind.”

To Live with the Benedictines

I would love to live within the Benedictine
vow of hospitality, letting it fill the day–
from matins bringing the sun out of

the night until I kneel by the straw
pillow waiting for my happy head.
To never have to try to feel at home,

to wander into prayer, the words turning
into leaves, salt air, nothing at all, the world
being what a cello says it can be. Anything

on the tongue would be the host—chunk
of dark chocolate, an apple, breadstick,
sprig of mint. The days, never enough,

would simply be light and dark moving in
and out of one another, a redeemed yin to
yang, an endless alchemy of hours, cowls

over the shaved heads of the monks.
To love without distinctions: Why this?
Why that? There is a window. And there

is a crocus blooming in the snow. There is
a book open to page 73. And there, asleep,
an old dog, snoring his own Gregorian chant.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Poetry East, 2006

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

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After Another Massacre

A couple of weeks ago, the posted poem was “Keeping On,” the one where the fellow plants spoons. I’ve been asked, “Why spoons?” For me there were several reasons. For the fellow in the poem, spoons catch and reflect the light, and they never waver from their “spoon-ness.” Spons also are used to nourish, to feed another, are readily taken for granted and overlooked, have a certain humbleness, can be used to lift and dig and carry, come in a variety of types and styles and uses. Friends are sticking spoons in their gardens like the man in the poem. I encourage each of you stick a spoon or two out where you can see it every day. Ours greet us just outside the door. It’s all but impossible for us to see them without being reminded of their light and purpose. They make us smile.

I’ve also been asked “Why Thursday for sending the poem?” Seems to me that the other days of the week are associated with something. Wednesday is “get over the hump day,” the middle of the week time. Friday is, of course, TGIF. And there sits Thursday with nothing much to show for it.

I don’t recall a week where the political world has pressed so heavily on so many hearts. And so this week’s poem…

After Another Massacre

Night comes even
with evening.

Our cat lies
purring,
a supplication.

We will say
a prayer
for the cold rain,

for the trees
going skeletal.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Talking River

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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!

It’s a Question of Prayer

Some 40 years ago at a college reading I said that there is another way to read W. H. Auden’s infamous quote “Poetry makes nothing happen.” And that is that poetry, like most everything we create, takes what is nothing (not a thing) and makes it into something that happens, primarily in the human heart. I was told after that reading by several faculty members that I was, well, wrong and that I had twisted things “quite a bit.”

And I’ve stood corrected ever since. Then this week the bright light of a poet, Laura Donnelly, emailed an essay that suggests that Auden did in fact mean that poetry takes the “silence” that surrounds us, mixes it with language and does make something truly happen.

Needless to say, I am heartened by that. And I’m gonna expand that idea to apply to most all we do. At this precarious time, we need to hold fast to the fact that each of us can make “nothing” happen.

Think about it: you take a bunch of ingredients and put ’em together and out comes holiday pastries. You are with another, and out of that quiet you create a conversation that would not be there without you. I admit to being startled by the responsibility that comes with “making nothing happen.” With that, here’s this Thursday’s poem with the hope that it can enter your concerned heart and find a comforting place there.

It’s a Question of Prayer

Monks know we can be one

with what has no
words, no name, not even a murmur.

There we meet the modesty
of presence: It could be green,

slow, tattered, cold, alone
as a possum

crossing a backroad.
It’s the touch

of the still. Prayer
is a place where we are

always
allowed in.

We are Amen, Shalom, Namaste.

Our where, there, here,
our forgotten habitat of yes.

We become sigh, our “I”
the wisteria vine in the rain,

the wet dog,
the house sparrow

nesting in the stillness of brown.

–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!