WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO ANYWAY?
by Jack Ridl
Trying to know what to do is difficult
enough, let alone knowing what to do
anyway. I could take that at least two ways,
maybe more. For example, I could take a walk,
even a long walk and I would expect to walk
through the woods or a field or a park or downtown.
But what if i take a walk and instead just kept
the walk to myself, kept it here amid all the indecision
about where to take that walk? I might pop open a Coke,
kick off my hiking boots, put on a smoking jacket,
and pile up some Jane Austen and some Henry James,
just pile them up. And then maybe I'd talk with you
even though you are no longer here. It could be like that,
or maybe it is like that. And at night the sky would be full
of the same stars as the night before last. At least it seems that way.
Jack Ridl, midwesterner, poet and professor, dedicated this poem to John Bartlby. But what he means us to know at the end of our reading is expressed in the last three lines. A man misses his friend. And this sudden, shattering absence measures, for our poet, the width and depth of the gulf between the tenuous temporal and the fixed eternal. Our poet glances upward. Stars. In their infinite lives, so much longer than our own, they fill the night, evidence of continuum. Today like yesterday - is it not full? But he feels the difference, our poet. A light has dimmed and changed the sky.
Ridl's poem begins in the physical. In the body of the poet and what he will do with himself. The living, and the no longer living. Failed by the futility of action, unable to find release in the movement of his muscles and breath, the poet moves into the hypothetical, the wondering, the hungering, the intimate. Again he returns to what is physical as he seeks comfort in the presence of what still is. Stars. Stars that remain the same, yet that some, now, do not see. Is it still as it always is? "It could be like that,/or maybe it is like that."
We know absence. We know loss. Take a walk. Or not. Boots on, or not. Books...or not. Thinking about the thing and internalizing the thing that thought signifies. Where do we go with vastness? An endless night? How does the heart embrace space too big for words?
What are you supposed to do anyway?