Last week, my writer-wife Patty and I taught some classes at Shake Rag Alley Art Center in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. As you can see in the above photo, the grounds of Shake Rag Alley, with their lush gardens and nineteenth century historic buildings, are perfect for sitting outside to do some drawing and writing.
One of the activities we give students to work on is to write a series of instances, beginning with the phrases I remember/I don't remember/I'd rather not remember/I've been told. It's a great activity for stimulating memories of moments that come to be braided together in almost poetic ways. One of the best examples of that came from participant Wendy Moylan, who kindly agreed to allow me to post it here:
I remember the old wedding shot, my grandpa lighting a cigarette in the flower girl’s mouth.
I don’t remember if he’s smiling or gravely playing the joke.
I’d rather not remember that he erased all stories in his barn.
I’ve been told he chose a shotgun over cancer.
I remember my mom’s mint plant, the iced tea made for it, and the vegetable garden with corn stalks.
I don’t remember the planting, only the harvest.
I’d rather not remember the cold beets and warm milk or dad’s chain smoke as he waited for my clean plate.
I’ve been told that, when his dad died, his hard sobs were surprising.
I remember struggling with scissors, my sister’s hands helping my paper skeleton smile.
I don’t remember when her freckles faded.
I’d rather not remember my dad’s weight on my shoulders as I played walker to the bathroom.
I’ve been told my brother surprised everyone with a pet snapping turtle.
I remember my dad’s headstone at the end of the Arlington row: two Memorial flags instead of one.
I don’t remember how I got there, among the rows of teeth.
I’d rather not remember the gun salute.
I’ve been told my whole family jumped at the first shot.
I remember standing in a field of red poppies growing wild.
I don’t remember where.
I’d rather not remember anything but this.
But an old photograph laughs and tells me, It was the Arizona desert. And the poppies were yellow