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!

I Thought This Poem Wouldn’t Have a Dog in It

I suppose this will read as merely self-indulgent information, but I’ll try to transcend that.

A puppy arrived here on Monday. Julie drove to Tecumseh, Michigan, the town where her Grandmother was born, where she picked up Vivi — named for Julie’s mother Vivian whom everyone called Vivi.

The pup is a Spinone Italiano, raised by a veterinarian and her farming husband and their six children, three of whom came to the family from Ghana. They are devoted to saving this breed so we feel part of a good thing. Vivi is sweet, gentle, pouncing with joy.
Charlie the rescue is acting like a good big brother, mostly. Cat Hattie is not sure about all this.

And the reason this is part of my project? Vivi is the embodiment of vulnerability. And here we are, every day, carrying both our own vulnerability and overwhelming empathy for that of others. Sigh.

 

I Thought This Poem Wouldn’t Have a Dog in It

Heaven would be good.
But I prefer it here only
without death’s daily nudge.

I put on some Chopin, water
the plants, spend some time
with Buddha, Emily, email,

never work on my golf game or
keep the windows clean. The center
doesn’t need to hold. Sitting here

on the couch, I read the letters
you wrote to me twenty years ago.
The first begins, “I hope you are

feeling better. I hope I’m not
out of line. It’s warm here.”
I notice the light falling across

the page, watch it take
its indiscriminate path along
the floor and think about

the time we forgot we left
the dog out overnight. He
waited at the door, and

in the morning, came in, ate,
hopped up on the couch
and fell asleep.

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

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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 the Embargo

Immigration–an issue. Especially during our current political darkness. But an issue is not people. What does it mean to be an immigrant? How can we know in new ways?

I’m also thinking about us all. I’m thinking that we are immigrating every day–where we live, in what we do, even at home. Daily we’re immigrating our way into nations of others and other ways, adapting and adjusting and hoping to be welcomed, perhaps assimilated. It’s precarious: we can be extradited. We deeply want to be neighbors.

The shift from identity as immigrant to neighbor is poignantly revealed in the new anthology, Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors, edited by Jennifer Clark and Miriam Downey.

The proceeds from sales of this important book ($10) benefit Justice For Our Neighbors, a ministry of hospitality that welcomes immigrants into our communities by providing affordable, high-quality immigration legal services, and engaging in advocacy for immigrants’ rights.

The anthology is valuable not only for the individual reader, but also for those teaching applicable courses, leading workshops, etc. To order email kzoo_assist@jfonwestmichigan.org or download and use this order form.

After the Embargo
Let in. Let out.
Make sure to send
the cigars. We must

have the cigars. And a
baseball player or two
or three. And Cuban

sandwiches. The music
has been here for
a thousand years. It

never needed a heartrending
raft to land on the sand.
It came the way music always

does. And now we sigh and
hope that never again along
the Keys’ haphazard shores

will a sea-soaked, ragged,
salt-enameled soul be dragged
to jail to wait, and then to wait.

–Jack Ridl
First published in Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors (Celery City Books)

Blue Sky Over Key West

Welcome to Key West, where we are on our little houseboat soaking up lots of lack of inhibition. Several years ago Key West seceded from the U.S., for a moment, anyway, establishing itself as The Conch Republic, the flag of which flies high still around town. If you’ve been troubled by and since the election, come on down. While the T-Word’s T-shirts and hats sell well, and ironically, at The Little Truman White House here, this fashion statement is one not seen on the locals. Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Idea of Order at Key West” remains such, merely an idea. There ain’t much order here. Drop your repressions at Mile Marker One.

Our pier in the city marina, Marlin Pier, is home to a gaggle of joy-filled, caring souls ranging in age from 12 to 90. Vocations and passions include artists, jewelry makers, CSI retirees, fireworks entrepreneurs, horticulturists, teachers of the year in science, blues singers, rock musicians, ice cream shop owners, government workers, sea captains, a Welsh screen writer, eight dogs, day laborers, former Pentagon photographers, knitters, actors, an adventurer who has survived three avalanches, shop owners, charter fishing captains, gourmet chefs on tour boats, and us. It’s the best assisted living set-up in the world: If “Jane isn’t up and out on the pier by ten, we check on her.”

When we arrived on Friday and headed down the pier, we were hugged and kissed and welcomed with the warmth usually offered those who have returned from outer space. Well . . .

“Don’t just do something, sit there!” Come recover for a bit. Just remember that this is a place where on Sabbath morning the parking lot used by the parishioners of the Unity Church is the one owned by the Bare Assets Nightclub.

This week’s poem…

Blue Sky Over Key West

Sometimes when we stand in the loss
of it all, surrounded by what we will never

be, the sky seems to be just fine. It’s blue.
It’s many shades of blue. And it’s there

and will be when we join the landscape
of the invisible. Clouds cross, none ever

the same. And that’s when we realize again
that there actually is no sky, just another

anonymous unknown we are sure we see.
When our dog steps out onto the deck of

our little houseboat bobbing on the nameless
blue-green of this bight and lifts his nose into

the gull-crossed and sea-soaked breeze,
does he see our sky? I like to suppose

he does. Though most likely it’s something
his gentle nose has brought for only him to view.

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Louisville 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!