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.

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And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

 

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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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.”

In a week where those of us who care deeply about the experiences and values found in our schools have been ignored, shaken, set aside like an old blackboard, I send this poem. During my years with students I watched the damages when standards usurped education and were deemed more important than each person, when accomplishment diminished giving students the richness they deserved to have as a central part of the rest of their lives.

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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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!

Speaking of Alternative Facts…

 An experiment: after reading today’s poem, try the instruction that follows the citations.

 

Against Elegies
I’m tired of Death’s allure,
of how the old beggar
makes me think that
rowing across the river is
somehow richer, more serious, than
the center of a pomegranate or my
dog’s way of sleeping on his paws.
I’m tired of ”the beauty of the elegy,”
the tone deaf lyricism of it all. I
want Death to listen for awhile
to Bud Powell or Art Blakey,
to have to stare for seven hours
at Matisse. I want him to do
standup and play the banjo, to
have to tap-dance and juggle, to
play Trivial Pursuit and weed
my garden. I’m tired of how Death
throws his voice, gets us
to judge a begonia, a song
in the shower, a voice, old dog.
I want life’s ragged way
of getting along, the wasted
afternoon and empty morning, the
sloppy kiss. I want to stagger
along between innings. I want
the burnt toast, the forgotten note,
and the lost pillow case, the dime
novel, and the Silly Putty of it all.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Poetry.
Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

 >>EXPERIMENT INSTRUCTION: Read the poem again substituting Trump for Death.<<

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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!

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!

Let Comfort Come

“Sticks and stones may break our bones.” Bones can heal. Words can too,  and they also cause lasting harm.

 

Let Comfort Come

Form is the quiet. We read
while form stays still
and waits. The words sing

or speak, clammer on or say
or tell or even sometimes step
aside and hope we wander in.

Everywhere within the form
of letter, word, space, structure
rests the hush around the hurry,

the opening wherein any form —
table, door, the lover’s arm and
tongue, the cat asleep on the sill—

lies the quiet, the shawl around
us all who have to clatter
through. Let it be the nothing of not.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Colorado Review

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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!

 

In Time: While the Dog Sleeps

Friends! Some whacked-out sociologist has written that we make no more than four or five friends in our lives. How did I get so lucky? He needs to meet each of you.

I don’t need to proclaim anything more about what has happened to us. Here’s what I want to do, and do with some self-consciousness: send a poem each week.

W. H. Auden announced that poetry makes nothing happen. I have fought that notion all my life. If I don’t believe that what I’ve given my days to can matter a tiny bit for even a moment to one human heart, then at this age, I’d be looking back at one humungous waste of time. I don’t believe I have wasted my time.

So each Thursday for the next four years, I’m going post a poem of mine (that’s where the self-consciousness enters) on my blog, as a kind of protest against the anti-soul perched atop the once free world. Please don’t worry about responding to it. If the poem can be a friend for you for a bit, that’s plenty. And feel free to “pay it forward” if you know of someone who would benefit from this.

I suppose I want to do this because I am nagged by a need to do something. I hope this will be my little protest on behalf of lovingkindness, for what is good. And all the more these days I want to feel connected to all of you during a time that has darkened the days in multiple ways.

I doubt many of us want to be uplifted. Being uplifted can feel all wrong when so many are suffering. I do think many of us want to feel respected, honored, affirmed, comforted. I hope this little project will help to fill that need.

So to see the poem each week, you can click on the Subscribe link at the top of the page, enter your email, and you’re good to go. Or just visit here on Thursdays. Of course, we’ll never use this email list for anything but sending you content from the blog.

Namaste, Shalom, Amen, Whatever. Here’s the first poem:

 

While the Dog Sleeps

November the first: Cold.
The last gangs of geese flying
through the gray of the day.
It’s the birthday of Stephen Crane.
On this date, Michelangelo said yes
to the Pope and gathered his brushes.
At the church next door, the choir
is rehearsing. There is nothing
I want to rehearse. Recently I’ve
been realizing, “If that didn’t exist, I
would never miss it.” I say it a lot.
But not about you. We put isinglass
over the screens on the porch so we
could sit there in sweaters, take the time
to see what was in front of us. Now
“tomorrow” is a strange word, “now”
even stranger. “Yesterday” makes sense
but not much of it is true. Our dog still
keeps sleep. I imagine him dreaming
La dolce far niente. When asked
if I miss what I did for forty years
I like to say, “That never existed.”
Now here on the porch I take in the light
crossing the last leaves doing their slow
dance in the breeze, watch the chickadees
at the feeder, once in a while glance at
the sundial we set in the shade of the redbud.

–Jack Ridl

Published in  The Louisville Review, October 2015

 

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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!