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by Janet Grace Riehl • Lake County, California
About the author
Janet Grace Riehl is an award-winning author, artist, performer, and creativity coach. Her most recent work is Sightlines: A Poet's Diary. Her poems, stories, and essays have been widely published in national literary magazines such as Harvard Review and the anthology Stories to Live By: Wisdom to Help You Make the Most of Every Day. The first chapter of her novelette-in-progress will be published this fall in the Left Coast Writers Anthology Hot Flashes and another essay is forthcoming in the Women of Spirit Anthology.
Janet is registered with Poets and Writers and is a member of Women Writing the West. Her life moves between two great bodies of water—the Mississippi River in Southwestern Illinois where she visits her family and cares for her father—and Clear Lake in Northern California. Visit www.sightlinesbook.com to enjoy sample poems, photos, and talks.
Pope In My Bedroom
There is a Pope in my bedroom.
Sitting in the chair
at the foot of my bed, reading and writing.
Mouth open as if to speak.
What's he trying to say?
Shall I go forth to do great things today?
If I'm lucky
I'll learn humbleness and patience
Kneeling at my mother's feet,
on her birthday.
Her last lessons to me.
I clean her shit off the floor.
Off the toilet.
Off her nightie and sheets.
It's all over everything.
All over her legs down to her ankles.
All over her back and arms.
She stands at the sink
to wash her private parts
as I kneel behind her
to wash her nether parts.
I'm going to powder your bottom, Mother.
"That's what I did for you as a baby."
I know, Mom.
That's why I'm doing it now.
socks and shoes on,
Before the long walk to her chair.
She sits at her command post
in the Queens Chair.
She gazes as the red-headed woodpecker
attacks the house once again.
Everyday he tries to peck the house down.
So far, it hasn't yielded to his demands.
But, he has made quite a dent
in the trim on the corner
above the birdfeeder
where the other birds perch,
content to peck seeds.
But, then, he is a wood pecker,
and he would peck wood, wouldn't he?
Upstairs in my bedroom
The Pope chuckles.
Secretly watching and listening.
Mom gives me lessons
While I give her care.
The Pope nods and goes wherever
Eighty-nine, both my parents are now.
my mother caught up to my father at last.
As if anyone ever catches up to another,
especially if that other
never ran away in the first place.
They are a tag team, my mother and father.
Running and catching, tagging and running.
And so it will be, I think,
all the way to heaven and beyond.
"You have the genes," a friend tells me
on my mother's birthday.
"So you'd better take care of yourself."
Yes, the Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise,
there are many years
rising up before me.
It's been over a month now
since I imagined the life of the world
without me in it.
Would the world love me
any better or worse?
Would it weep at my funeral?
If I waded out into the water
with stones in my pocket
would I become the lady of the lake?
Would the world remake me
into a saint or a demon
or just a human
grown tired of herself?
But, it's been over a month now.
The rain falls outside, not inside.
The creeks rise, swollen with the rain,
but the Good Lord seems willing
and moves inside my will
until everything creaks, swells,
and rises inside me.
It's been over a month now.
My parents stir
in their bedroom below mine,
in the oldest house in the world.
My mother snuggles
inside the crook of my father's arm.
Their bodies, stirring,
warming each other, still.
The rain falls outside, not inside.
A new day is dawning.
And I am in it.
As my feet hit the floor,
my old age rises to meet me.