Menu Close

First Remembered Poem

Author Shelley Fraser Mickle
Air Date 4/6/2000
The term Poetry - dictionary definition highlighted with yellow marker

First Remembered Poem Transcript

When I think of my first remembered poem, a warm spring day in 1952 marches through my memory so that I am once again in Mrs. Hopkins’ third grade room with Junior Martin holding us spellbound by the one and only poem he had ever written in his life. You see, it was Mrs. Hopkins’ idea to have us read, write, and discuss poetry for two whole weeks.

But in the little cotton town in Arkansas where I grew up, reading, writing, or reciting poetry was as rare as hen’s teeth. It was also common to have about three boys in every class named Junior.

The fact is, poetry seems to come naturally to children. It’s the joy of using language, which by the time you are eight years old you might want to trot out on your tongue the way a car lover might want to do a few U-turns in a Corvette on Main Street. Rhyming isn’t the whole attraction, either. There is something about a poem that takes hold of the writer and listener the way a backpacker might stop to listen to the sound of the mountain he is climbing. In fact, before I let you hear Junior Martin’s poem, which for forty-eight years has lived in my memory as clearly as the day he recited it, let me just throw in a few thoughts.

Wallace Stevens said that a poem need not have a meaning, and like most things in nature often does not have. Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet, said that to read a poem is to hear it with our eyes, to hear it is to see it with our ears. And Carl Sandburg pointed out that ordering a man to write a poem is like commanding a pregnant woman to give birth to a red-headed child.

That last quote is probably the one that applies most to Junior Martin. He was tall and barefooted and wore overalls, and his freckled skin was already sunburned to the shade of a ripening apple. He leaned against the blackboard and began: “Fishes eat worms for breakfast.” He waited a few seconds, then recited the second line. “Fishes eat worms for lunch.” Then he walked two steps away from the blackboard and let us sit with those two thoughts for a minute. Finally, he turned around and looked out over us and with great drama added, “and when it comes to supper…” He then picked up a piece of chalk and rolled it in his fingers before letting us have the last line. “Fishes eat worms.”

Someone in the class laughed, someone else yelled out, “aw, that ain’t a poem.” But for me, Junior Martin’s poem was profound. Not only has it stayed in my memory for nearly fifty years, and year, while I admit it’s easy to remember, but it also speaks to me as reassuringly as if I am climbing up a mountain and the mountain suddenly whispers back, “don’t worry, I’ll always be here, right under your feet.”

Posted in Poetry, Stories