I Remember by Jerry Smiley

I Remember

I remember sixteen in ninety-three.
I remember seventeen in ninety-four.
I remember hearing boy you losing your mind?
I remember Incarceration in ninety-five.
I remember ooh-wee you going to that Alto spot.
I remember hearing those words and my heart nearly jumping out my chest.
I remember diesel fumes and cigarettes smoke.
I remember Bluebird buses and interstate seventy-five.
I remember youngster, why are you in this place?
I remember left right, left right, and saying so prison is similar to the military?
I remember daily inspections.
I remember Reidsville and Alto chain gain war stories.
I remember Mama dying and me flying.
I remember Daddy’s last breath and his death.
I remember been told you embody resilience
I remember saying this must be a bad dream.
I remember saying there no way I am ever going to give up.
I remember it all like yesterday.


About the poem:

This poem grew out of an “I remember” writing exercise in the class, coming from one of our course textbooks: A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry by the poet and teacher Greg Orr. Mr. Smiley’s take on this exercise was moving in the summer class–full of specificity and sensory detail from his early childhood. In the class this fall, he took the writing to a whole other level – creating a full poem that conveys with powerful snapshots of a lifetime: from his bewilderment and fear he faced as a youth going to an adult prison to coping with the loss of both his parents while still incarcerated as an adult. The poet gives us a window into his lifetime and his determination to remain resilient and hopeful for his future.

– Margaret Pendergrass, Instructor Downtown Class