Five Kids
What Is Your Earliest Memory? What Does It Mean?
by Eric Torgersen

Barbara the earliest thing I remember
is pushing a train of wooden blocks
sawed off the ends of two-by-fours
around the top of the concrete foundation
of the house my mother and father built
up Lyons Street at the end of the war.

It means we really were all there
together once, my father and mother,
my house, my brother and I,
my three sisters one after the other.

The foundation was a foundation
to hold up my little train
and I was a block and my brother
and sister and sister and sister.

I remember a little while later
my mother on the roof with a hammer.

The roof was a roof over our heads
but the house was never whole:
the bathroom no more than a shell,
around the back no shingles,
in the front yard a big stump
we had no one to dig up and haul.
We cut and tunneled and burned but the stump
was bigger than all of us together.

The stump was the stump of a tree
I can’t remember. The tree was my father.

                                    —for Barbara Drake

PHOTOGRAPH: The author (at maybe seven?) with older brother and three sisters in front of the house in the poem.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is dedicated to Barbara Drake because it was written in a workshop she gave in which the poem’s title was a succinct version of the prompt she gave. I don’t usually write from prompts but this one was perfect for me at the time. It appeared first in Hanging Loose and then in my book Heart. Wood.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eric Torgersen is Emeritus Professor of English, Central Michigan University. He has published six books of poetry, most recently Heart. Wood. (WordTech, 2012); two novellas as books, and Dear Friend: Rainer Maria Rilke and Paula Modersohn-Becker (Northwestern University Press, 1998). His essays, poems and translations have appeared in American Poetry Review, Hudson Review, Gettysburg Review, New Letters, New Ohio Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, and other journals.