Poet Laureate of Lake County Reading
One of three finalists
April 1, 2006
I am honored to be here today, with such good friends, and such fine writers, on this glorious day of celebrating the sacred vessel of poetry, colleagueship, and our beautiful, wet county.
Tomorrow I travel to my ancestral home in Southwestern Illinois where my family has lived since the 1860s on the bluffs above the Mississippi River. Evergreen Heights, our homeplace still, has nurtured six generations of talented, principled people. My reading today shares three generations of poetry that spring from that ground: my grandmother Anna Riehl, my father Erwin Thompson, and my own. I feel privileged today to share these generations of influence and, as I do, invite you to reflect on your own heritage.
I never knew Grandma Anna, my father’s mother. She served in the Korean mission field and died in a harsh traffic accident while my father was but a boy. But, I did know her book, On the Heights, published exactly a century ago in 1906. Her title, On the Heights, refers to our place, Evergreen Heights, of course, and also, equally clear to anyone who knew her—on the heights of God. One of the poems from this book is printed on a little broadside. You can run your hand over the paper, feel the indentation of the lead type—not laser—and be transported to another time. Here’s the poem:
by Anna Riehl
You dropped a flower on my path one day,
Not knowing; but I saw it lying there,
Perceived a perfume, delicate and rare,
And caught it up from off the dusty way.
You dropped a word into my life one day,
A gentle word, and though you never knew,
It rooted in my heart, and there it grew,
A silent influence, a constant stay.
And still, above the tumult and the strife,
I seem to hear your sweet voice speaking yet,
In accents that I never can forget,
Giving the motive for a better life.