Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

“Gated Community,” a poem by Janet Grace Riehl tells of a girl coming of age on a hilltop kingdom

Evergreen Heights sign

Here are some of the early lesssons I learned growing up on the land of Evergreen Heights...about sex, alcohol, and protecting your territory from intruders.--JGR

(from Sightlines: A Poet's Diary)

Three gates protected our hilltop kingdom.
One at the bottom,
just past the No Trespassing sign.
One at the top,
just short of our house.
And, the gate that barred the back way,
Our winter escape route.

If you belonged to the place,
then you possessed the keys to the kingdom.
Invaders lived to regret it.

Sometimes the lower gate remained open.
Joy riders got a jolt
when they zipped up the road,
ready to explore
and found the upper gate locked.
It's a long way down when you're backing up.

As for the back gate,
adventure-seekers, who couldn't fling it open,
saw it as some kind of affront to human freedom.

Lovers liked to park in a shaded nook
just off the gravel road
six-inches away from our back gate.
My introduction to sex
was a naked couple dashing out of the woods,

Some folks brazenly trekked in.
One bunch of scoundrels topped a good evergreen
just to take home an ill-begotten Christmas trophy.

A troupe of teenagers crouched below the pine row.
Tucked their tails and ran when their jig was up.
Their abandoned cache of imported booze
Introduced me to alcoholic spirits.
My parents lined up six bottles
in back of their closet
right behind the shoes collecting dust bunnies.

Why my tee-totaling parents
didn't pour it down the drain
is still beyond me.

This dark bar stored my secret treasure.
I developed a taste for Grand Marnier,
doled out one thimble at a time,
nervously watching the level go down.

Thieves slipped through
our security system one night,
set to siphon gas from our 300-gallon barrel
supplied by the Farm Bureau.
Mother sensed them first.
Sat bolt upright on the back sleeping porch.
"Erwin, wake up!"
My father slipped down to their car.
Calmly pulled the keys out of the ignition.
A neighbor arrived with an unneeded gun.
Pop scored a flash photo of our gas hose in their gas tank,
license number prominent in the composition.
Road blocked on both ends by other neighbors.
The gas gang stood stock-still
quaking until the sheriff to arrive.
Caught red-handed, they went straight to jail.
Do not pass Go.

Gates swing in
and then swing out.
I hightailed it to foreign parts:
Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Wild West.
But, I still carry
keys to the kingdom.

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  1. When I travel to Spain, I'm going to take "Sightlines" with me because I always feel settled when I read these poems. These Poems help me remember I have a place I belong. They remind me of my family, home, and childhood. They remind me that I'm American. They voice my istory...the cultural context from which I grew...the oral history of the Midwest. I know as much about the ancestors from the old country as I do about my parents friends. "Sightlines" sets me in time and place and grounds me.

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