I first heard Joy Harjo’s “Remember” recited by Georgia Heard at NCTE 2019. The line I immediately fell into was “Remember your birth, how your mother struggled to give you form and breath.” My eyes welled up, in fact, to hear the line read aloud. It mirrored my birth story: one month premature, cord wrapped around my neck, emergency caesarean. I thought also in the moment I read the poem of my house-bound mother, recovering far too slowly from knee replacement surgery. Through 45 years in a matter of seconds, Harjo’s words connected me to her.
One word, one phrase, one line is often all it takes. Poetry is an explosion of grace into the mundane.
The act of remembering was especially important to my seniors in the spring of 2020 without the rituals that (let’s be honest!) are mostly what senior year is about. The fashion show, the prom, the awards ceremonies, the senior picnic: all pulled from the roster. I shared this poem and the story above with my seniors in late May. Unmuting their microphones, they shared their favorite lines in a “whip-around” and were also invited (but not required) to type into the chat why that was their selection. What followed was such a range of treasured memories and stories from their lives. I then invited students to do a short write beside the poem, which they could later extend upon as a longer piece in their portfolios. Below are some lines from those short writes, some of which became the genesis for other written pieces:
- Remember that first F on a test
- Remember the birds picking at the bread we gave away
- Remember playing varsity, the green line dominating the ice
- Remember the friends you’ve lost, the friends you still have
- Remember something embarrassing, even if you may not want to
- Remember the rage that fueled your determination
- Remember when we used to argue over the smallest things
- Remember when our decisions did not affect others
- Remember the Starbucks trips that made the school day worth it
- Remember all those practices where we said we’d quit but never did
- Remember that stuffed animal that you refused to leave at home
- Remember your first time you looked at somebody differently.
- Remember when we made super buttery popcorn