National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 2, 2003


This week’s poetry page features three poems by Jeanette Ritzenthaler, who died in 1999 at age 70. Ritzenthaler’s career as reporter, editor, English teacher and college professor spanned more than four decades. Her work was submitted by her college roommate and close friend, Mary C. Phillips.
they rise from sleep before
the sun spreads its tendrils
over the fields.

they rummage in the dark --
dress, drink coffee
or a coke
and silently drift
from black doorsills
to wetter blackness

where crops weigh heavy
awaiting dark hands
to free the stems.

migrant labor
moving in the first
white petulant dawn

-- Jeanette Ritzenthaler

-- NCR photo/Toni-Ann Ortiz
A fisherman’s dream
to ride down every fish,
to pull and set the hook,
to let out line and watch fish fly
in a final attempt to spit
the steel that would mark
its end.

to climb every rock,
to follow every brook
to its source,
where bubbling liquid
seeps from the boulder
marking its beginning.

to feel the cool water
splashing ’round my feet
and thigh; to understand
the silent throat of nature,
to translate its message
-- my fondest dream.

-- Jeanette Ritzenthaler

Halfway home
Halfway home from town
… if one measures old neck roads …
are Peter’s fields,
once a farm.

Now haying is the only occupation
that disturbs a den
where mother fox selects to have
her pups each spring.

One can tell when spring
is coming on:
she reappears with reddish balls
so underfoot that they look
like parts of her.

This sunny day she sat
atop her den, padded down
the heavy snow, to watch the
traffic by.

Auto, trailer, truck and more;
the traffic so increased.

She seemed to know -- eyes watching,
her ears flicking sound.


She is gone now …
the fox that seemed to know;
eyes watching, ears flicking sound.

She seemed to know
before the rest of us
that Peter’s death would call
for marking, measuring and selling
off that land for second homes.

She heard the whine of endless wheels
as she lay upon her den.

And on a day when no one saw,
she gathered up her pups,
her life and sought
the refuge of a darker growth
beyond her rocky home.

-- Jeanette Ritzenthaler

National Catholic Reporter, May 2, 2003

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