Raking Leaves with the Gods

I’ve been raking leaves. I like raking leaves. We won’t get into the metaphorical experience of raking leaves. I just like raking leaves.

At the same time that I’m experiencing this rather inane mantra of reach–pull, reach-pull, Julie, whom I get to be husband to as best I fallibly can, is within the last two weeks of managing the campaign of Garnet Lewis for State Senate here in Michigan. Garnet isn’t even the opposite of 45, because she is for what matters. To compare Goodness to 45 is as much a waste of an intelligence as writing your first year college paper revealing for the first time the differences between Mother Teresa and Attila the Hun.

So the point: For months now Julie has been working tirelessly in behalf of what matters. Instead of economic greed, displaced human values, a despoiled environment, an educational system that makes it impossible for teachers and students, taxes that keep the non-working class able to continue to not have to work, and and and, she is working to prevent an inevitable loss of democracy and the environment to this unrestrained capitalism and a demagogue.

Yesterday I paused for several hours from raking leaves and texted a very civil message in behalf of Garnet to voters in our district. There wasn’t a pushy word in the text. It was actually more of an invitation, worded not much differently than “Would you like to come over for some wine and cheese?”

Among the responses I received were thoughtful, civil affirmations and responses saying kindly that they were for Garn or for the other candidate. Also among the responses were those using words that actually frightened me. Some were so coarse they are unprintable. Some claimed I was something that I had no idea existed. Some were downright cruel. I kept wondering, why? What turns a child who at one time likely played in the leaves into someone verbally monstrous?

My awestruck admiration for Julie soared. And I went back to raking leaves.

Raking Leaves with the Gods

For a month, there have been leaves.
Scattered over the pea stone paths

that lead us through the shade
of our gardens, beech and birch,

oak, ash and even larch leaves
lie, their ends dry and curling

toward their veins. I rake and
make believe I am a Zen-traveled

monk smoothing the surface, quieting
the loss into a calm within a heart’s

usual storm, the tines’ slow scrape
assuming silence among the stones.

In the branches birds sing. The cool
cloud-covered breeze is my Master

saying, Slow, slow. Move to the edge.
The lack of rain today says, patience.

The gods say, What is there to do?
This, I say. And they say, And this.

They stand their rakes against a tree,
gather in the Adirondack chairs along

the narrowing stream. Yes, there is
also this, I say, nodding toward the water.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Poetry East

Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

On April 1 (perfect!)  my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Yes, preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!

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

Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague 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.

St. Francis in Disney World

I am ever grateful for our dogs, how they bring out the best in me, contradicting that heinously imposed notion that we have no good within us. And I am ever grateful to so many who do the same. And though I am not grateful one twitch for 45, I am, like so many, deeply moved by all the good emerging because of his cruelty. A high school student here in this village is making sure her fellow students are registered to vote, aligning them with the thoughtful courage of the students from Parkland and other schools, who are demanding change. We who hope for kindness in our politics and the world often feel so out of place, when maybe, just maybe, we are not the ones out of place after all.

St. Francis in Disney World

The children come up to him, touch
his robe and giggle. He blesses them. They
run and ask their parents to take their photo
peeking out from behind his filthy holiness.
Mickey quietly comes up beside him, his
huge fingers dangling like loaves of Wonder
Bread, tilts his head as if to say you better
leave or take a bath and put on clean jeans.
St. Francis whispers, asking for the birds.
Mickey shakes his head. St. Francis holds
his place in line while each ride spins its
squealing riders round or up or down: a
chug, a plunge, a long and hopeless cast
of thousands, tons of hot dogs, fries, and
pizza, sushi, Coke and Pepsi, pie and
ice cream, chocolate. There are bees.
He has no ticket. He’s told to step aside. He
looks up where the sky should be. He
watches a cat slide under the plastic
elephant. He looks back up. The sky
has gone. The earth has gone. His feet
are sore. His hands are turning into
birds. His hood is filling up with coins.
His beard is filled with bells.

–Jack Ridl

First published in Dogwood

Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)


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

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

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


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
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,


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

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!

Suite for the Turning Year

I have so enjoyed hearing from you. If you have left a comment on one of these posts, I have responded there to your response. Just wanted you to know. I’m not sure if you are notified.

Seldom here along Lake Michigan do the seasons move gradually one into another. Only a week ago, the temperatures were in the benign low 70s. One day we walked without a coat, the sky deep blue and uncluttered by rain clouds. Then before we could get out the scarves, the temperature sent us for sweaters, space heaters, gloves, and roused the angst of shovels.

We are coming upon a terrible anniversary. It’s hard, when so many are being hurt so profoundly, to suggest that this will pass. But the seasons do come along. If we are lucky, we will breathe through to the other side. Whatever that holds.

The following is a longer poem, but maybe you will find it warm within and want to linger.

Suite for the Turning Year

Sometimes when the dogs are asleep,
and the whole world seems quietly
poised between green and brown,
when everything is lascivious with
leaves—the ground, the porch floor,
the holly bushes, even a few last trees–
you can see a glimpse of the way
the clapboard house was set within
this woods, almost see them nailing
the sills under the windows and
carrying in the kindling. The air
sifts across your forehead, and you
look up, hearing the chill jabber
of the chickadees, the quick
scattering of chipmunks, and
in the anonymous distance,
the disappearance of the sound
of children or was it a car? There
is no need for a letter in the mail,
no thought of putting away
the pots of yellowed impatiens.
Just this little time and
perhaps, a little more.

Feeling this way in the afternoon.
Not because it’s November. The burnished
landscape lends an invitation to sit,
a blanket across knees that once bent
and knelt to plant a hundred bulbs,
pull a thousand weeds. This month’s
brown cold is welcome. Within the calm,
there is no guilty need to do, no frantic
thought that one had better take advantage
of the long day’s light. Oh, the dogs still
need their walk. And there are dishes. But
we can listen to the radio, can watch the slow
breathing of the cats, look for this year’s
yearlings as they cross the hill behind the house.
Still the world must make space for us
to sit, walk, sleep, give up itself to give us
room. Later this afternoon, after I build
a fire, we’ll pull down our book of maps,
imagine our breath is giving something back,
alchemizing oxygen into gratitude even though
we are an inconvenience in the world.

The sun beats down
somewhere else
and the moon is lower
than the tops of the trees.
The cats come back from
their prowl and curl up
in front of the back door.
Coming up the street,
the headlights on the night
shift worker’s car turn
into his driveway. We
can hear the refrigerator,
the pump in the basement,
the fan in the bedroom
upstairs. If there are
ghosts, they have only
our silence and the last
of the moon’s borrowed light.

Light lies on the oriole’s nest,
fallen empty in the euonymus.
Strands of lobelia hang over the edges
of the chipped terra cotta pots
on the back step. There’s an old
novel on the kitchen table, one cat
asleep under the hanging basket.
On the porch a watering can
is giving in to rust. The cracked pink
flamingo stands bent on its iron legs.

Two days of soft snow lie
under the moon’s stolen light.
It’s early winter. Now a quiet

accumulation of cold comes
in its slow way. I wait
for stillness, its stay. Why

think of winter in winter?

Maybe to follow my father
through the old grass into
the deer’s long walk across the snow.

Sometimes when the snow
is nearly deep enough
to keep us home, we stay
in anyway, carry in kindling,
build a fire, unfold blankets,
and stack the books we open
now and then. Next to us
we set a pot of coffee, add
a log when we must. Wind
passes, whirling little lifts
of snow against the window.
The dogs sleep as if we’re gone.
Others have to leave. We know.
The mail will arrive at noon,
the newspaper by evening.
It won’t matter as much.
After sleep, there will be ashes
under the grate, a little less
wood to burn, more or not
as much snow. We may
play some Lester Young
and Etta James, let his sax and
her voice smolder in the coals.
How good it is to be in here,
on the couch, the dogs asleep
against the pillows at the ends
as if we are safe in the great
Kingdom of Rain. Death
with its lisping end rhymes
stands under an umbrella.
The rain against the windows
is a language, its assonance
an uninvited solace. Cold
will come again. We can’t
move south. We have sweaters.
We depend on a shovel
and the neighbor’s plow.
We depend on music, on
knowing we no longer
need to say we love one
another. Love is Emanuel.
This rain. The leaves.
This music on the radio
is music on the radio.
The dogs sleep with
their names. These leaves,
this music, this rain.
–Jack Ridl
First published in The Louisville Review

Published subsequently in Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press)

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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!

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


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

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!