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Tuesday, August 21, 2012


A recent issue of Poetry magazine contains an essay by Mary Ruefle titled, “I Remember, I Remember.”   The title is from a poem by the poet Thomas Hood, who begins his poem with “I remember, I remember,/The house where I was born.”  Hood, a contemporary of Keats but of lesser fame, was one of my favorite poets, as was this particular poem.  Ruefle uses those opening words as a prompt for the long list of her own memories, each one using Hood’s words to begin a memory.

Through many pages, she chronicles her life in memories rather than dates, although they seem to run chronologically.  She refers to numerous poets who influenced her, some whom she heard read and others she found on the written page.  One comment struck me, when she remembers the “single, simple reason” that she became a poet: “I liked making similes for the moon.”  My own reason for my early poems had more to do with the boys I loved while in high school than something so ethereal as poems about the moon.  It was only in the past year that I wrote my own moon poem, which had nothing to do with romance.

What would you write, if you began each paragraph with “I remember . . .”?  As I thought about trying it for myself, the memories so quickly flooded into me that I was too swamped to decide just where to begin.  Instead, I just let each one settle in my thoughts and then move on out so that the next one could enter.  Do you remember your first grade teacher?  Mine was Miss Briggs.  Two years later, my mother, brother and I were back in Hot Springs, AR, after having to leave Honolulu following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  I was in third grade then, and to my joy, Miss Briggs had in the interim since 1939 been promoted to third grade also.  She had me visit other classrooms to tell of what it was like to be in Hawaii at the beginning of that war. 

I remember what my high school years were like when we lived at Ft. Lewis, WA.  My father had been assigned to Madigan General Hospital as a pathologist.  We “Army brats” were shuttled back and forth to high school ten miles away, and formed a kind of community of commuters during those years.  When our 50th class reunion took place in 2001, a few days following the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11, several of us thought of visiting Ft. Lewis for old times’ sake, but the heavy security at that time prevented our doing so.

Other memories are fed by our family photo albums: our wedding, the birth of our four children and their accomplishments over the years, beach and lake vacations with family and friends, our many pets who were very much a part of our family, and trips we took.  I remember, I remember, all the joyful times, the times of grief and loss, the moves from one house to another and the changing neighborhoods.  Charlie and I began as a family in Bremerhaven, Germany, and have since visited our old stomping grounds.  The return jolted our memories, for so much had changed in the intervening 50 years.

During the years, our careers changed, the children grew up with their own memories of family, and we remembered former homes as places we could not find again in the same way as they had been for us.  We learned that even though we cannot go home again, home is still there in our memories, embellished perhaps by what never really happened, or the way rooms did not really look, but they are what we remember.
What are your memories?  How would you list them, beginning as Mary Ruefle did, and Thomas Hood did in his day, with “I remember, I remember . . . .”  Take your time.  They will all come flooding back, the difficult memories, the good memories, all of them.  They are yours forever.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Language of Trees

I have loved trees since I was old enough to swing from a branch, or sit under their shade, or climb them.  Finally I completed my collection of poems about trees, which are published through, complete with color photos.  I include two excerpts here to give readers a glimpse of what is in the collection.  First is my foreword and then a picture and poem from the season of summer, for a quick snapshot.  The book itself can be found on and will soon also be available on and some other sites.



            There is no better time to study trees than now.  Trees live in the moment, drawing upon the earth for sustenance, from the air, from the sun, from the rain.  I have always loved trees.  As a child, I sized up every tree in sight on the basis of whether it was a good “climbing tree” or not.  When we lived in Honolulu, I loved to play on and under those wonderful Banyan trees.  They constituted a playground in themselves, touched by mystery and nurture.
            My life has always sought the solace of trees:  a hideaway where I could read without interference, a place for a swing, the shade from a Southern summer sun, the scattering of fruits, pecans, walnuts and chestnuts out of their abundance, the statuesque quality in a landscape of snow.  When one must be cut down in the interest of commerce and street building, I weep.  When others fall after buffering by storms, I grieve.  When a forest is felled for its lumber and commercial value, I am enraged.  Trees belong to this planet as gifts to honor and care for, to increase our connections to the world around us.  I give thanks daily for the trees I have met, known intimately, played under and in, blessed for their shelter of birds and squirrels and cicadas.  This collection is my thanksgiving to the trees of this world.

Backyard in Summer

Trees rise from our lower lot, towers
of poplar and beech wrapped round by ivy.
Their arbor of leaves screens the sky 
so that I catch only glimpses of blue or gray
through weavings of green.                           
Today the leafy sky becomes my pleasure,
while below, all in this slight forest have purpose:                  
squirrel and crow, even black snake
find highways along bark and root
below the abundant quilt of August.                                      
From the dead branch reaching over wood stairs
dangles a clay pot, nesting place for wrens.
At night, Venus travels above this summer canopy
with Polaris, Cygnus, Pegasus, to rise
in the darkening sky, summoned by the spin
of our earth home, curtained by summer.