Week One: Memories
April 2nd: Write a poem with each line starting with “I remember”
Today’s poetry prompt is to write a poem with each line starting with “I remember.” What does that phrase invoke for you? How does it engage with your psyche? The act of remembering can be such a labor-some act, right? Like physical–taking energy from the body? How does your body remember? Can it remember? How can language inform this process?–this act.
Here’s a poem, “I Remember Anyway,” by Ocean Vuong:
I Remember Anyway
after Mary Ruefle
I remember the table.
I remember the table made of words given to me from my mother’s mouth.
I remember the room burning. I remember the room was burning because my grandmother spoke of fire. I remember the fire as it was told to me, the one bedroom apartment in Hartford, seven of us sleeping on the hardwood floor, swaddled in blankets from the Salvation Army. I remember the man from the Salvation Army handing my father a stack of coupons for Kentucky Fried Chicken, which we called Old-Man Chicken (Colonel Sander’s face was plastered on every red bucket). As in: Do you want to celebrate your birthday at Old-Man Chicken this year? I remember tearing into the crispy meat and oil like it was manna from heaven.
I remember my mother saying to me: Remember, child—don’t get noticed. You’re already Vietnamese.
I remember my father, which is to say I am putting him back together. I am putting him together in a room because there must have been a room. There must have been a square in which a life would occur, briefly, with or without happiness. I remember happiness. It was the sound of coins in a brown paper bag: my father’s wages after a day of scaling fish at the Chinese market on Franklin Ave. I remember the coins spilling onto the floor, how we ran our fingers through the cold pieces, inhaling its metallic promise. How we thought we were rich. How the thought of being rich was a kind of happiness.
I remember the table. How it must have been made of wood.
I remember walking with mother to the grocery store, the fistful of father’s wages in her hands. I remember armfuls of Wonder Bread and jars of mayo, how mother thought mayo was butter, how in Saigon, butter and white bread were only eaten inside of mansions, guarded by butlers and steel gates. I remember happiness, everyone smiling, mayonnaise sandwiches raised to cracked lips. I remember thinking we lived in a sort of mansion.
I remember thinking this was the American Dream as snow crackled against the window and night came and we laid down to sleep, side-by-side, limbs tangled, sirens wailing through the street below, our bellies full of bread and “butter.” I remember happiness.
I remember the table, which is to say I am putting it together. Because someone opened their mouth and built a structure with words and now I am doing the same each time I look at my hands and think table, think beginnings. I remember running my fingers through the edges, studying the bolts and washers I’ve created in my mind. I remember crawling underneath, checking for chewed gum, the names of lovers, bits of dried blood. I remember this beast with four legs hammered out of a language not yet my own.
I remember my mother saying, before I left the house for school: Remember, you’re already Vietnamese.
I remember grandmother talking in her sleep, how she raised her hands and said no bang bang, no bang bang, YOO ET AYE numbuh won, YOO ET AYE numbuh won…I remember listening in the dark, her words turning the walls into a field, blurred and blue with rain. Then the gunshots. Gunshots across the street and grandmother waking up gasping for air, clawing at my legs. I remember happiness: sitting in grandmother’s lap by the window, waiting for morning. Feeling her heartbeat on my back. The snow growing bluer and bluer in the parking lot outside.
I remember being so young I thought they were dancing. I stood laughing and clapping my hands like two small lilies as father’s faux-Rolex broke across mother’s cheek. Mother on all-fours over the kitchen tiles. The sirens coming closer.
You’re already Vietnamese.
I remember my father, which is to say I am cuffing him with these little words. I am giving him to you with hands behind his back, his head ducking into the patrol car because like the table, this was how it was given to me: with words, from mouths that never articulated the sounds inside a book.
I remember getting a letter from father while he was in a Vietnamese prison, the envelope wrinkled, crisp, and torn at the edges. I remember holding up a piece of paper covered with lines and lines of white-out. I remember scraping at the chalky film that lay between me and my father’s life. Those words. Nuts and bolts to a table. A table in a room with no people. No window to tell if the century had passed or was still burning.
Originally published in Guernica.
Feel free to post your poem in the comments!