The poetry collection “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary” by Janet Riehl is a soaring, poignant homage to family, sorrow, and the rebirth that comes with pain and loss. Written after the death of her sister in a tragic automobile accident, Riehl cobbled together her father’s mournful poems as well as her own and set out to document the ties that bind and the things that matter most.
Interwoven with collections of family photographs are meditations on the importance of family and the comfort of kin. Using memories and recollections as her foundation, Riehl’s poems are heartwrenching and triumphant. Many of the poems read as journal entries, and diary submissions. There’s no belletristic prose or coruscate syntax, it’s simple, it’s original and straight from the heart.
Though the book obviously caters to those who have experienced a similar loss, there is a resounding conviction in her writing that allow her words to enter into the hearts of the reader. Much like Jane Brox’s family memoir “A Thousand Days Just Like This One,” Riehl retraces family steps while revisiting classic bits of dialogue. An example of this is in “Catechism”:
Mother: “Dad Died?
J: Maybe forty years ago.
M: Why didn’t I know about it?
J: Maybe you forgot.
M: That’s possible. What else is possible?
J: I don’t know, Mom.
M: Where are they now?
J: Up in heaven, I guess.”
Though the book’s center is initially Riehl’s mourning of her lost sister, it’s the pieces about caring for her ailing mother and her recollections of her Midwestern childhood that leave an indelible mark.
One of Riehl’s better poems is “Praising Mother”:
Your magnolia petal soul bobs down the creek
Navigating shallows and peering into depths
Delicate titmouse feather Mama, same as those
Miniature birds you feed
Before they dart into ground places.
No, Riehl’s book isn’t a New York Times bestseller and no, it probably won’t garner glowing reviews from the folks at Harper’s and Kirkus Review, but Riehl’s work is both reflective and significant, and those two aspects are enough to earn this book a positive recommendation. More information on Riehl is available at her Web site www.riehlife.com.