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

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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!

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

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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.

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!

Epilogue

Perhaps it’s the term ‘post-modern.” I don’t understand “post-modern.” I don’t understand “modern.”

I know some people who had an argument over when modernism began. It all but destroyed their friendship. When disagreements like that break out, I feel like offering an adaptation of a Mel Brooks response: Uh, you go on arguing, “I gotta wash up.”

Epilogue. Maybe we’re inhabiting an epilogue. I like that. Epilogues tend to have a sense of addition or addendum to a story and are often a gentle settling of things.

Yeah. I don’t want to dwell with you in a “Post-T Word” world. Let’s head toward an epilogue.

Epilogue

I’m working a Sudoku puzzle, one cat
in my lap and Mozart on the radio. I
didn’t catch what work, but I don’t know

much about classical music. I like it,
most of it, have it on all day, a companion
as I wander from room to room within
a life that may or may not matter. I
also don’t know much about cats. We
have two. They act as if they can’t believe
the other should be in the house. They hiss,
growl, swat at one another. The old dog
sleeps. The young dog stands between them.
It’s a cold day, patches of snow and ice.
There are birds at the feeders. There is
a clear sky, and the creek behind the house
drifts along as does the next piece on the radio,
something by Edward Elgar or maybe it’s
Vaughn Williams. This puzzle is impossible.–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville Review

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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.

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!

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

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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.

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!

 

Knowing Now You’ll Never Be a Clown

Ya just have to laugh. We do. And we’re grateful for the court jesters, those brassy, brazen jokesters who dare to amplify the cruelty, arrogance, and egomania that vandalize our joy. Do, please, send in the clowns.
Knowing Now You’ll Never Be a Clown

But if you were, and if your grin
were painted red as a Coke can, a fire
engine, red as the Tabasco sauce
you spilled on your mother’s carpet, and
if it lifted itself from the inside of one huge ear
to the other, and if your nose were a ping
pong ball almost begging for a swipe, and if
your feet slept within white shoes, three feet long
and flapping, would you be able then to talk
to everything you really want to talk to: the
chickadees who come closer than your nieces,
that piece of paper blown across your lawn,
the rain, each nudge of green in your garden?
And when you put on your coat, that U.N.
of colors and scraps, that coat that would
make Joseph feel he had folded himself
into the pages of GQ, the one with the shoulders
rolling up to your cheeks, with buttons the size
of pancakes, and a hem like the border of
Czechoslovakia, would you want to walk
into church, quietly take your place with
the choir and just as the minister finishes
the benediction, honk your horn? And
when you put on your polka dotted tie, wide
as a summer afternoon, would you
want to pin the squirting yellow daisy
on your lapel, sit in the business meeting,
and after the ayes have it, squeeze
the rubber bulb in your pocket?  Then
again, maybe you would just stay home,
listen to jazz, the blues, or some swing,
open each of your cupboards and talk
about Tuesday or the way the light falls
across the counters, invite Lou Jacobs,
Emmett Kelly, Felix Adler, Otto Griebling,
hell, the whole clown alley, rent a calliope,
a center ring, one elephant, and get out the pies.

–Jack Ridl

from Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Hey! Just a friendly reminder to check out this news about a lovely reading coming up on June 23.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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 Dry Wallers Listen to Sinatra While They Work

When I was a kid we called it Decoration Day. I can still hear my grandmother saying, “It’s Decoration Day, time to put the little flags in the front yard.” I don’t know if I realized that the day was meant for decorating the graves of veterans. I do remember crossing the street from my grandmother’s house, into the little park and standing around the memorial there that held the names of those from the town who had served in World Wars I and II, my father’s name on one of them. He was the captain of a black company who was assigned to clean up after battles–both rubble and remains. Like most vets, he never talked about it. He wrote home always adding the PS. “This war will never end.”

The Dry Wallers Listen to Sinatra While They Work

This morning, my mother, here
for the holidays, is washing
the breakfast dishes, when Al, wiry,
coated with dry wall dust takes
her hand and says, “I bet you loved
Sinatra.  Dance?”  The acrid smell
of plaster floats through the room.
Frank is singing, “All or nothing
at all,” and Al leads my mother
under the spinning ballroom lights
across the new sub-floor.  He
is smiling.  She is looking over
his shoulder.  The other guys
turn off their sanders.  Al
and my mother move through
the dust, two kids back
together after the war.  Sinatra
holds his last note.  “It’s been
seven years since I danced,”
my mother says.  “Then
it was in the kitchen, too.”
Al smiles again, says,
“C’mon then, Sweetheart!”
biting off his words like the ends
of the good cigars he carries
in his pocket.  Sinatra’s singing
“My Funny Valentine” and
my mother lays her hand in Al’s.
They dance again, she looking
away when she catches my eye,
Al leading her back
across the layers of dust.

-Jack Ridl

First published in Poet Lore and winner of Say-the-Word Poetry Prize from The Ellipse Art Center, Arlington, Virginia. David St. John, judge. Also published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press).

Within What You Endure

You have likely read the columns recognizing that T’s mental and emotional development is that of a seven year old. That did it for me.

It’s reached the point where my concern for the republic has turned into resentment that I have to be concerned for the republic. I want to be concerned for what matters in my world: wife, daughter, friends, family, dog, cat, the annuals I planted last week, my Pittsburgh Penguins. You know that’s what matters–our worlds, governed by our love.

Trouble is that this week all the recent disclosures plus the overload of various activists asking for my 876th signature and accosting me for not pledging a mere $25 to their 876 causes sent me into one helluva dark place, and I ended up displaying a similar infantile rant at those who in no way deserve to witness or be bombarded by little boy Jack. What I needed was a time out.

Within What You Endure

Beneath the quilt you lie
still in the chronic morning

light, eyes on the ceiling’s blank
canvas. You paint your father

in a dark blue shirt kneeling
in his garden, you sitting small

beside him, he handing you
his trowel and a seedling,

as if to say, “You plant this one.”
And you imagine you do. Then

you paint your own house
half-built at the foot of a gentle

rise within the quiet landscape
of a stagger of pines higher

than the roof. The sun is half way
up. You put down your brush,

and welcome the day, your day
spreading out into its question.

-Jack Ridl

Published in Third Wednesday and Poet Lore

But He Loved His Dog

24 million will lose their health care unless some in congress have a backbone and a twitch of caring for those they are sworn to care for.

When our daughter, Meridith, was living in France for a year on a Watson Fellowship to paint in the footsteps of Cezanne, she was struck by a hit-and-run motorcyclist and was taken immediately into surgery for critical head injuries: no paper work, no questions, no nothing but care, excellent care. When we arrived, we were told not to worry about any financial concerns. “We are here to take care of your child.” Total cost: $25 dollars. She continues to paint in the footsteps of Cezanne.

Coda: When Meridith first visited Cezanne’s studio in Aix en Provence, the curator was struck by Mimi’s awe and asked her to return in a couple days to talk. (Incidentally, there were no ropes to keep visitors away from everything: his bag, brushes, easel, everything.) When Mimi returned to her apartment we asked her about her talk. “She gave me a key and told me to come anytime to do my painting in the studio.”

24 million. Ropes to keep us away from everything. Get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts. Take a selfie with your microwave. Now as pass by those such as this man, I wonder . . .

 

But He Loved His Dog

Wednesday was trash day so he pulled
the garbage can to the curb. There
was never that much in it. Sometimes
he stood there for a few minutes, looking
down when a car drove by, looking up
at the trees in the yard across the street.

No one really knew if he knew anyone.
He had a dog. It wasn’t much of a dog.
It was an old dog, a mix too mixed
to know what all might be there. He
told someone once, “Oh I suppose
there has to be some beagle, maybe
some German shepherd.” Each noon
he walked the dog down to the corner,
left on Maple Avenue, three blocks
to the park where they would stop and

he would sit on a bench under a Beech
that had been hollowing out for years.
The dog lay at his feet, once in a while
lifted its head and sniffed. He never read
or talked except to say, “What do you
think of this day, boy?” and the dog
would wag its tail across the gravel path.

He would sit for most of the afternoon,
then tug on the dog’s leash and they
would walk on through the park, then
back home. He would bring in the mail,
toss it away. When the evening’s light
began drawing its shadow across his porch,
he would turn on the radio, open a window,
and sit outside, with his dog, listening
to the classical music station and the cicadas.

–Jack Ridl

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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!