July 26, 2013

I Remembered Joe Brainard's "I Remember"

A couple of days ago, while I was writing the blog post "At a Small Historical Museum", many childhood memories were triggered; something else I remembered was Joe Brainard's marvelous book titled I Remember. The entire 138 pages consists of sentences and short paragraphs beginning with the phrase "I remember":
I remember pink cotton candy and feeling all "sticky" afterwards.
I remember looking very close at cotton candy and seeing that it was made up of little red "beads". 
I remember a coconut kind of candy that looked like thin slices of watermelon. 
I remember "nigger babies." Candy corn. And red hots. 
I remember finger painting and usually ending up with a sort of purple-brown mess.  
I remember jungle gyms and girls who didn't care if you saw their panties or not. 
Brainard writes with direct prose, clearly observant, that becomes intensely engaging as you read through the book. Some of his memories are mine, although he was a bit older than me and grew up in Tulsa. He was also gay, and many of his sexual memories are included, straightforwardly described. So many of his memories elicit ones of my own, so that I can see sitting and writing a similar list, that would grow as one thought leads to another. This little book began life as a smaller volume, with two more following. All three were all included in this book. Brainard wrote in a letter about how he felt while working on the first I Remember:
I feel very much like God writing the Bible. I mean, I feel like I am not really writing it but that it is because of me that it is being written. I also feel that it is about everybody else as much as it is about me. And that pleases me. I mean, I feel like I am everybody. And it's a nice feeling. It won't last. But I am enjoying it while I can.
Here are more, just from one page opened at random:
I remember green Easter egg grass. 
I remember never really believing in the Easter bunny. Or the sandman. Or the tooth fairy. 
I remember bright colored baby chickens. (Dyed) The died very fast. Or ran away. Or something. I just remember that shortly after Easter they disappeared. 
I remember farts that smell like old eggs. 
I remember one very hot summer day I put ice cubes in my aquarium and all the fish died.  
I remember dreams of walking down the street and suddenly realizing that I have no clothes on. 
I remember a big black cat named Midnight who got so old and grouchy that my parents had him put to sleep. 
I remember making a cross of two sticks for something my brother and me buried. It might have been a cat but I think it was a bug or something. 
I remember regretting things I didn't do. 
I remember wishing I knew then what I know now. 
I remember peach colored evenings just before dark. 
I remember "lavender past". (He has a....) 
I remember Greyhound buses at night. 

An easy slide from one memory to another, just the way our random thoughts work. The prose that is so crisp, so simple, becomes a poetic ode to a life, and to our lives as well. And yes, I remember wearing a red satin dress with gold fringe and dancing a children's Charleston to "Steppin' Out With My Baby".


  1. frances mccormickJuly 26, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    thank you, Altoon! memories are tenuous & so delicious. His do begin to awaken mine too. & mine, as are so may of all of ours - are memories of things that are not here any longer. & other things that are still here but do not have the weight of that original experience. buses at night. now they are so tedious.
    & I found that I was remembering regretting things I DID do.

  2. I had not heard of this book, but have always created memory jars for friends and family filled with notes of what I remember of my times with them. Now that my mother has dementia, the memory jar for her is all that more important. Great post as it makes one remember how important all the little stuff really is.

  3. Thanks frances and Lori for the wonderful comments. It seems that Brainard's remembrances do trigger so many thoughts of ours. And yes, such richness in small things.