Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

“Up Under the Pine Rows,” a poem from “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary” on the themes of ecology, memory, place, love and loss

I'll be going to San Marcos, Texas next week to participate in the LAND FULL OF STORIES conference presented by the STORY CIRCLES network. The theme for the conference is PLACE and that's what pulled me to respond to a call of papers. I'm honored to be chosen to present a break-out session there. My workshop is called "Always Coming Home."

In a hat-tip to my upcoming trip, I'm posting one of the poems that explore place in my poetry book Sightlines:A Poet's Diary. It tells the story of connection to the land and how the land comforts generations. It tells the story of how all things pass. It tells the story of how we belong to the land perhaps more than it belongs to us...and what happens to our species is interwoven with its fate.--JGR

Evergreen Heights sign


by Janet Grace Riehl
(from Sightlines: A Poet's Diary)

When I was little and ran away from home,
I ran under the pine rows up on the ridge.
Those Evergreen Heights of ours.
They all have white pine disease now.
It breaks my heart. The dead branches.

“That’s the tree I sang on as a boy,” Pop says,
on our stroll that has become an inspection walk.
The branch is a beauty,
a low curving upward horse of a branch.

Great Grandpa E. A. Riehl planted these pines.
Grandma Annie named her poems after them.
On the Heights.
God’s heights were the heights she came to know here,
seated underneath these evergreens
on the ridge overlooking the Mississippi.

She carried them
to the Korean Mission Field—and back.
Julia carried them to Europe to Russia to Africa
to Ellsworth Avenue in Pittsburgh—and back.
I carried them to Ghana to Botswana to Europe to Bhutan
to New Mexico to Northern California—and back.
Gary carries them 60 miles north to his lake
above Jacksonville—and back—and back—and back.

And so, when I was little and ran away from home,
with some food stuffed in my pockets,
quite naturally,
I ran under the pine rows up on the ridge.
Those Evergreen Heights of ours.
(Each time I swore it would be forever,
but my forevers never lasted more than an hour.)
I flung myself under that pony branch,
prayed it would rear its way over me as it
stampeded towards me. Flung myself face down
for my cry. Then faced upward towards the sky.

These pines are our mothers and aunts and sisters.
They are the resting place for ashes at the end.
And now, they too, are dying.

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2 Responses »

  1. Janet,
    Each time I read your work, I come away with something new. Today, it is not just the image of the child-you running away but of the “pony branch” that grew up to be a “horse of a branch” and now dies away, just as the family does. Chills gather in my heart.

  2. "Ditto", Arletta! And, thank you for sharing this lovely family memory, Janet. I am so glad that you and Arletta have found each other!

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