I Remember

When teaching poetry to Grade 8/9 students, I often use Taylor Mali’s I Remember assignment to get them started; it’s inspired by Joe Brainard’s I Remember.  Some of the kids are old enough to appreciate the drama of Joe Brainard’s and want to demonstrate the similarities to their life. Some of them couldn’t wrap their brains around such a life, so I don’t even bother explaining it to them.  They all like to write about themselves, though.

Me, too: I like to write about myself.  It also passes the time while I wait for the students to finish writing their poem.  Fret not: I don’t have the time to write 100 pages of memories.  (I’m not dying.)


I Remember

• I remember the sour taste of the orange, and the look on my mother’s face when I spit it into her hand. I also remember the taste of sour orange that has been chewed for far too long.

• I remember a yearning admiration for the soft yellow daisies on the white cotton quilt. I never thought to count all the daisies. The quilt was on my sister’s little bed.

• I remember the thick, sickly-sweet taste of powdered milk. It was cheaper than real milk.

• I remember the height of the tree in the back yard. Every year, I believed I’d forgotten how high it was. It didn’t occur to me that the tree would have grown.

• I remember the children’s section in the basement of the village library. There was a book called Good Grooming that suggested that I brush my hair before washing it. I still get the heebie-jeebies thinking about dirty hairbrushes.

• I remember walking—no, strutting in the new winter boots that had hard heels so they clicked like an adult’s. No passersby looked at me, despite the clicking.

• I remember realising how fast the river was running, and understanding what would happen to me if I let go of the rock, and suddenly appreciating the strength of the male hand.  I don’t think he ever told my parents that I was walking in the river.

• I remember the rain on Christmas Day. The outdoor smell of damp earth was oxymoronically juxtaposed with the indoor smell of Christmas tree and roasting meat.

• I remember the disappointing texture of the inside of a velour shirt.

• I remember not wanting anyone else to touch that book. And that book. And that book. They were my books.

• I remember realising that jangle precisely describes the sound I like best on the guitar.

• I remember seeing her dish rack that contained nothing but a yoghurt container (the expensive brand) and an old silver spoon. I vowed to eat like that when I was an adult.

• I remember reality sadistically cancelling out fantasy.

• I remember bodies suddenly having an appeal that didn’t have to do with my safety or temperature.  I was nonplussed.

• I remember discovering cock rock. And liking it. A lot.

• I remember the dichotomy of intimacy.

• I remember the dichotomy of solitude.

• I remember when the head of the high school English Department said that grammar is divorced from literary analysis. I swooned with his unorthodox use of divorced.

• I remember, in the theatre, watching one man touch another’s arm, and suddenly something made sense. I didn’t watch the rest of the play.

• I remember when my adolescent self met an adult who obviously did understand me. Part of me wasn’t sure that I wanted him to.

• I remember the smoky, dusty smell of my grandfather’s books.

• I remember the relief of falling asleep.

• I remember realising I’d missed the precise moment when I became an adult, and how dispiriting that was after such a long wait.

• I remember thinking that I looked good, but the hairdo and make-up and constrictive clothing made me look like a stranger. The mirror was a double-edged blade.

• I remember the unholy howl of death.

• I remember the blackness of her skin and wondering how the English language, in its generalisations, could fail so badly.

• I remember when one character fell in love with another character and I had to rewrite the story. I wasn’t all that annoyed by the change; it seemed logical.

• I remember the weekend that both Gwendolyn MacEwan and James Baldwin died. Everything stopped for a time.

• I remember the voice of a French woman who learned to speak English in Scotland. It’s a spherical, tumbling sound that I hope I never forget.

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