Excerpts from “I Remember, I Remember”
I remember in high school there was a girl named Lizette. She had black hair and a very pale face and because her mother was French she was an outsider and to make matters worse she was not the best student but was awfully good at art and took all the art classes and we worked on the literary magazine together and I liked her very much but I was afraid to be her friend because after all she was strange and I think I was jealous of her strangeness at the same time as I was afraid of it, and when we were together we read our poems out loud to each other, and in this way, through poetry, it was always safe to communicate.
I remember (much later) wondering what ever happened to Lizette.
I remember another friend in high school whose mother was an artist and their house was full of statues—the Buddha and nymphs—and the furniture looked like it was hundreds of years old and there were paintings on the wall and her mother had a separate apartment called a studio and in it were figures of clay on pedestals and in one corner an old hand-cranked Gramophone and I liked being in there but it was kinda scary too, it seemed forbidden in some way I couldn’t figure out; art was scary, strange, forbidden, and the really confusing part was I wanted it and needed it.
I remember one afternoon my friend and I were in the studio and all the clay figures on pedestals were draped with white sheets and my friend told me her mother did that when she didn’t want to look at them anymore and I was totally confused.
I remember standing in a field in Switzerland at dusk, surrounded by cows with bells around their necks, and reading John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” out loud from an open book I was holding in my hands, and I started to weep—weep is a better word for it than cry—and I remember the tears slowly streaming down my face, it was that beautiful to me, and I loved poetry that much. I was eighteen.
I remember (later) thinking that it was actually hilarious that I used to read poetry to cows, that they were an integral part of my most serious moment.
I remember, two years later, reading Three Poems on a grassy slope while across the road three men put a new roof on an old house, and I was in love with one of them. I could watch the men working as I read. I remember that everything I was reading was everything that was happening across the way—I would read a little, then look up, read a little, then look up, and I was blown apart by the feeling this little book was about my life at that moment, exactly as I was living it. I remember loving the book, and that it was one of the memorable reading experiences of my life.
I remember reading Rilke’s Duino Elegies again and again and again, until I “got” them, until something burst over me like a flood, and I remember, once again, weeping and weeping with a book in my hands.
I remember that I did not always know authors were ordinary people living ordinary lives, and that an ordinary life was an obscure life, if we can extend the meaning ofobscure to mean covered up by dailiness, glorious dailiness, shameful dailiness, dailiness that is difficult to figure out, that is not always clear until a long time afterward. Obscure: not readily noticed, easily understood, or clearly expressed. Which is a pretty good definition of life.
I remember, I remember the house where I was born.
I remember driving by the hospital where I was born and glancing at it—I was in a car going sixty miles an hour—and feeling a fleeting twinge of specialness after which I had no choice but to let it go and get over it, at sixty miles an hour.
I remember I was a child, and when I grew up I was a poet. It all happened at sixty miles an hour and on days when the clock stopped and all of humanity fit into a little chapel, into a pinecone, a shot of ouzo, a snail’s shell, a piece of soggy rye on the pavement.
I remember, on the first Tuesday of every year, that I became a poet for a single, simple reason: I liked making similes for the moon. And when things get tough and complicated and threaten to drown me in their innuendoes, I come back to this clear, simple, and elemental fact, out of all facts the one most like the moon itself. O night, sleep, death and the stars!
I remember the moon was covered with dust and I used my finger to write clean meon its surface, and my finger was ever after covered with a fine gray blanket, as when you pull lint from the dryer.
I remember more than I can tell.
I remember heaven.
I remember hell.
I can’t get enough of poet and essayist Mary Ruefle these days. You can read the entire “article”/poem here. For more of her word-loving ways, pick up a copy of Madness, Rack, and Honey. It will soon become your favorite book, an anthem of sorts for growing, living, and loving.