I Remember, I Remember
On the handsome roofers, attentive cows, and sudden tears of youth.
by Mary Ruefle
I remember being so young I thought all artists were famous.
I remember being so young I thought all artists were good, kind, loving, exceptionally interesting, and exemplary human beings.
I remember—I must have been eight or nine—wandering out to the ungrassed backyard of our newly constructed suburban house and seeing that the earth was dry and cracked in irregular squares and other shapes, and I felt I was looking at a map and I was completely overcome by this description, my first experience of making a metaphor, and I felt weird and shaky and went inside and wrote it down: the cracked earth is a map. Although it only takes a little time to tell it, and it is hardly interesting, it filled a big moment at the time, it was an enormous ever-expanding room of a moment, a chunk of time that has expanded ever since and that my whole life keeps fitting into.
I remember writing a letter to President John F. Kennedy and a few weeks after mailing it finding it in the bottom of my mother’s drawer.
I remember sending my poems to Little, Brown and Company and suggesting they title the collection “The Little Golden Book of Verse,” and I remember their rejection was very kind and I was stunned when they made a guess at my age and were correct, I was in the fourth grade, and I felt the people at Little, Brown and Company were so smart they could read minds.
I remember when I was forty-five and my mother died it poured the day we buried her and late at night I thought of how cold her body must be, with the freezing rain pouring down on it, and how much she would hate being out in the cold and rain if she were alive. She would want to be under the blankets of her own bed on such a night, with a cup of coffee on the nightstand, and the coffee would be on top of the first art object I ever made, at the age of five, a ceramic coaster: a white tile with my face drawn on it in brown lines. For forty years her coffee cup must have burned my face, and since my mother died by fire, I did not want to think of it anymore.
“I remember, I remember,/The house where I was born” are the first two lines of a famous poem called “I Remember, I Remember” by a not-so-famous poet named Thomas Hood, and it was in the first poetry book I ever owned, The Golden Treasury of Poetry, edited by Louis Untermeyer.
I remember (later) thinking it was a curious thing, that there were so many famous poems by not-so-famous poets.
I remember the first poetry reading I ever went to; I was in college and it was W.S. Merwin. He sat on a stool under a spotlight and the audience sat at his feet. He had a halo of curls and he looked like a god with his face in the spotlight. He wore blue velvet knee breeches, a flowing white shirt, and soft, flat yellow leather boots—more like slippers really—that came up to his knees, where his trousers began. Surely this is an imaginary memory, surely he never owned such clothing.
I remember liking the reading.
I remember being young and liking everything.
I remember liking a great many readings that, if I were to sit through them now, I would not like.