We all carry memories that stretch back forever into our childhoods, and who knows if those memories are really the first ones, or if they tell their stories truthfully. How can we know if every detail of a memory is the way it actually was? We cling to enough of what happened to give that memory its lasting power, its way of helping us know who we are and where we come from.
This little poem tries to capture what I've come to think of as my first memory. I can feel the heat of the wood stove, feel my grandmother's hands as she buttoned my dress, see the light off the car windows outside. It was Saturday. The wind was everywhere. We were going into town, that small Southern town that on Saturday became the center of the universe. Cold was coming on fast. Halloween was approaching. The two women dressing me became larger than life as I remember this afternoon. And the wind whistling and howling around the house! Such a mystery to me, that wind could take the house I loved and make it sing. This poem still gives me pleasure because it keeps that memory fresh and lively.
I remember the stove’s black belly
we huddled beside that afternoon,
the three of us,
two old and one young,
the wind whistling round the house.
It’s the corners make it sing, my grandmother said,
the sharp edges.
The windows rattled,
the day outside bright as the sun
on the Studebaker’s windshield I squinted
toward while they were dressing me
in my little white slip edged in lace,
and my little pink socks cuffed in lace,
and my Sunday-best dress with the hem
hitched up every two inches
so I could see more lace whenever
I sashayed around.
Because I was a girl.
I was their girl.
Their hands on my body were cold,
their mouths clicked and chirped.
The wind howled.
from Catching Light, LSU Press