Memories: Each Day Radiant with New Meaning
The dedication for my book is “To Julia, and All.” I dedicate this talk “To Julia and All.” I love my sister and honor my sister, but it is not just for her that I speak. I raise my voice to remember all victims of sudden and violent deaths—to remember all families who mourn them—to remember the sorrow of life’s fragility and joy at its tenderness that form the sightlines of this collection of poems.
For two years now, I’ve commuted between two cultures and two homes in Northern California and Southwestern Illinois. In the year following my sister’s death, I spent the bulk of my time in Southwestern Illinois at Evergreen Heights, the home pioneered in the 1860s by my Great Grandfather Riehl. Evergreen Heights is my paternal grandmother’s homeplace, the place where my father grew up, and our homeplace still. I wanted to come closer to the family core, and be part of building a fire we could warm our hands around.
My work on Sightlines moved back and forth between my Midwest home to my Northern California home on the shores of Clear Lake where the whirl of extended family, visitors, and renters of the Midwest quieted to just me, my sweetheart, and an old cat.
I’ve been enormously moved by reader responses to Sightlines. It is so much more than I could ever have dreamed of—or hoped for. One reader I’ve come to know, Mona Locke, says she feels Sightlines ” . . . converts the particularities of a completed life into elements radiant with new meaning” [quote from Sandra Gilbert]. Mona inspired me to take “memory” as one of the themes I wanted to speak on. She told me that:
The most important thing I take away with me after reading Sightlines is how rich you are in memories. Knowing that you are rich in memory, as your book establishes, makes me feel equally rich—not through your memories, but my own. My memories are different than yours. My memories are not as nice, nicer, and just plain different. But my memories are mine and they’re an important part of what makes me who I am. You, your memories, your book opened that door for me. [Coming to this realization through reading your book] has been one of the most positive elements of my adult life, and I will always remember it as making clear to me that each day is ‘radiant with new meaning’ and new memories.