My dream from girlhood was to have a book of my own, like my Grandmother. This year, a century after the publication of her book, this dream has come true in the form of Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary. The photo on the cover is the view down river from Riehl’s lawn, taken in my great-grandfather’s time. Inside the book 24 archival photos are reproduced, as if for a family scrapbook.
The five sections of the book are for precious people and places in my life. Three for people: my sister, father, and mother. And, two for places: our homeplace in Illinois and here, lakeside. In my father’s section, Slim, this poem, Scribbler, appears in homage to my father’s influence on my writing, which allowed me the fruition of my heritage.
“Scribbler” is a story poem. Such a poem combines highly compressed narrative, musing, and observation that avails itself of poetic techniques such as alliteration, imagery, and metaphor. I crafted the story poems in this book to be simple and direct to reach heart to heart. Sit back and relax for a few minutes as you listen to the story of how my childhood shaped me into the writer and person I am today.
by Janet Grace Riehl
His back warmed in front of the fire.
Stretched on the floor to read his words.
Words scribbled at work as rain or snow fell outside.
A pipefitter couldn’t work then.
Inclement weather days, the company called them.
As union steward he negotiated contracts
with management whoop-de-dos
to get those days properly paid for.
Tucked in back of the locker room
while other linemen and pipefitters
gossiped and played cards,
he scribbled away in spidery handwriting.
School-lined paper in a blue cloth binder.
He didn’t need a creative writing
MFA from a high-faluten’ university
He carried stories in his head.
They had to come out,
or his head would burst.
He warmed his nest of stories like a broody hen.
At night when he couldn’t sleep,
clouds drifted over his muse moon,
salting plots and characters
to rain down on his lined pages.
Other kids prayed for snow days to skip school.
I won’t say we didn’t enjoy
snow cream, snowballs, and snowmen.
But we also greeted Pop at the door,
ready for the next installment.
Like Dickens’ cliff-hangers
that first appeared in magazines,
Dad’s stories came in serials.
Neither quite knew what might happen next.
Dickens and Dad wrote up to the cliff
and then left us hanging.
But, we got to write by proxy.
“What will happen next?”
“Will the boy get the girl or will the girl get the boy?”
Dickens and Dad scribbled
sentiment and chaste romance.
In the gallery a huge cheering section
rooted for the underdog.
My father channeled Charles Dickens
without knowing it.
The haves and the have-nots.
A heart of gold beneath coal-stained clothes.
The joy of that first kiss.
(No need to say more.)
The happy ending, breath exhaled.
“An author only has one story,” he advised
over gingersnaps and ice-cream,
our late-night snack.
“Imagined in as many ways you can.”
Pop wrote 40 books in intermissions of a life of toil.
A mechanical pencil
tucked in the bib of mud-caked overalls
marked cuts on boards
and scribbled words that still mark mine.