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!

The Artist to the Canvas

Last week we sent out “The Refugees.” The remarkable artist of numinous works Dawn Stafford and her daughter, Lillian, read it aloud together. It became a kind of chant/rap. Would I ever love to hear that!

Speaking of artists–

45 has heard of Vincent van Gogh! He asked the Guggenheim to send him one of van Gogh’s paintings to hang in the White House.

The curator declined and instead offered to bring over and install “America” by Maurizio Cattalen. It’s a solid gold functional toilet.

You don’t have to be Fellini to recognize the metaphorical layers in that offer.

Can’t imagine 45 would have any idea what it’s like to take part in the uncertain, vulnerable experience of attempting to create a work of any art.

We are in what has been called the age of criticism, often reduced in prestigious publications, classes, and conversations to “What did you think of . . .?”

Whereas, Vincent van Gogh offered the following:

“I want to touch people with my art.”

“What is done in love is well done.”

“The beginning is perhaps more difficult than anything else.”

The Artist to the Canvas

I see the lost
light of the dead,
the occult of morning,

the same moon
rising behind the night.

The next child is
the next child, each
stillbirth
chasing the disappearing
world.

I let you in the back door,
mortician of beginnings,

tramp
sleeping in a newly mown field.

–Jack Ridl

 

First published in Colorado Review

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

AND ANOTHER THING

Monday mornings I meet David (D.R.) James for coffee and a pastry at the Respite Cappuccino Court in Douglas. We chat and sip and chat some more. His new collection, If god were gentle, has been published by Dos Madres Press and is available from the publisher, online, and from your local independent bookstore.

 

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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 Refugees

In cities and towns people marched. I suppose one who tosses out easy irony or cynicism would offer something along the lines of “A lot of good that did.” Did 45 care? Of course not. Did he wake up the next day thinking he had better pay attention to the values carried by those who marched? Of course not. To march together is to reveal that we shall overcome being isolated, alone in the enormity of our worry and concern; that there can be joy within the sorrow; that we can be ourselves when we gather with others; that we don’t have to sacrifice our individual voices to some oppressive political ventriloquist. We march, we sing, we laugh, we hug, we drink coffee, and vodka and stay after the march to be with one another, to be who we are, to not be beliefs but to be what and whom we care about, to be.

The Refugees

They are walking, walking. They are walking, walking.
They are walking.  Walking. They are walking. They walk.

They walk. They walk.           They walk.

They walk.   Walk. They walk.
They walk.              They walk. They walk.
They walk.    Walk.      They walk.
They stop.                 They walk.

They walk. They walk.      They walk. They walk.
Walk.                        They walk.    They walk.

They walk. They walk. They walk.
They walk. They walk. They walk.

They walk. They walk. They walk.
They stop.

They walk.                  They walk.
Walk.             They walk.                     They stop.
They walk.              They walk.        Walk.

They walk.           They stop.
They walk. They walk.                         Walk.
Walk.             They walk. They walk.
They stop.

Walk.                  They walk.      Walk.
They stop.       They walk.                       They walk.
They walk.                        Walk. They walk.

Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk.  WalkWalkWalk  Stop   WalkWalkWalk

Stop
WalkWalk   Stop    Walk    Walk.
Walk . . . . . . .

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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!

He Brings Home Everything

A faculty member at the college where I loved to be with students once emailed me the following: “You use too many exclamation points.”

What’s the deal with the fear of enthusiasm? Seems to me it’s more essential than ever what with the damper dropped over the world by 45. So many parts of our lives deserve and need our enthusiasm. Our dogs let us know that all day: when we respond to them without delight, warmth, affection their ears droop. Cosmic signal, I’d say.

I emailed this snotty response: “You use too many periods.”

I have read editorialized essays where the complaint is Americans use the word “love” so much that it becomes meaningless, that it should be reserved only for those few people one truly loves. I say we can never use it enough. Many a tradition all but demands that we love and love and love, be it ice cream, an enemy, ones beloved.

My new year’s resolution? To use way too many exclamation points! I love exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

He Brings Home Everything

Under the house there’s room for a cat.
The porch is piled with clocks, bicycles,
broken windows, toasters, magazines.
The kitchen has minarets and steeples and
towers of old tins, cereal boxes, the top
one always with a face: Hopalong Cassidy,
Willie Mays, Daffy Duck. Every shelf
holds a montage of mugs, match boxes,
old platters, coffee pots, an entanglement
of whisks, forks, ladles, and spoons.

A hornet’s nest dangles from the ceiling fan
hanging next to a mobile of fish bones.
The bathtub overflows with children’s books.
Four years ago, he closed the door on two
full bedrooms. In his own room: puppets,
trains, kites, stuffed and wooden animals,
pop-up books, soldiers, clowns, snow
globes, penny banks, tin cars and trucks.
There is a rowboat covering a leak in the roof.

–Jack Ridl

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

Out in the Fields with Dogs a Day Before Christmas

The dogs are back. Carrying their mystery and restoring wonder and mystery and quiet joy to the most common of experiences. I like to think it’s where we all belong.

Out in the Fields with the Dogs a Day Before Christmas

Their great white heads take me
deeper into the snow. They lift
their noses into the wind-soaked
air, then push further into the drifts,
finding the lost smells in the roots,
weeds, and matted ground cover. They
know the deer have walked here,
their own heads lifted high into
the morning. I can only imagine
what worlds fill the dogs’ heads,
what takes form from the thousand
smells we can never know, their
dreams made from all these grasses,
mud, scat, and fur. Maybe something
takes the scents and stirs them into
some bewilderment of wolves
walking a ridge. We walk on.
At home, the Christmas tree,
trimmed with strings of tiny lights,
glitter-covered glass, tinsel, angels,
nesting birds, toy drums, and
the withering paper globes we
made when we were children,
stands in a back window. You
are baking kolaces, baking them
the way my father did, rolling
the soft dough over the apricots,
raisins, apples, and poppy seed.
The snow is falling harder. The dogs
look back, then come to my side, sit
and gnaw at the ice frozen to their feet.
This year it will be the two of us,
and the dogs. We’ve been told
the full moon is to be the brightest
it’s been in 90 years. We’ll watch
it out the bedroom window as it
crosses through the trees, low
in the southern sky, the dogs
asleep at the foot of our bed.

–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!

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!

Walking the Creek with Dogs

We were walking in Douglas the other day with new pup, Vivian, and a couple stopped to “talk dogs.” One of the women said, “These days, my dear dog has done something so wonderful for me, and she of course doesn’t know it. She says nothing about how terrible things are. And I talk to her as I always do, but a different feeling comes, a kind of quiet comforting feeling.”

Walking the Creek with Dogs

“I do not think all dogs are angels. In fact, I don’t think any are.”
–Jeanne Schinto in The Literary Dog

Mine are. Muddy
angels, slopping
their way ahead of me.
I have to watch
my every step.
They head on, tails
wagging like assurances
that this is happiness.
Nothing in their heaven
is pure, just a twisting
creek, sand, rock,
rotting logs. Sometimes
they catch something
in the air’s great mix
of scents, and they
veer, soaked, up
the bank, dripping
and sniffing into the
loosestrife, milkweed,
sassafras, and thistle.
I hear only the snap
of a stick or their soft
rustle through the mat
of grasses. Then they
are back, splashing
through the water,
stopping only to shake.
I slap at a deer fly,
feel August on my neck..
They carry their thick
coats on down the creek.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Blackwater Review
and
Voices Along the River Anthology, 2001

 

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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!

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!