Thursday, November 2, 2017

On Reading and Memory


Friends, family, people I’ve loved have always noted my recall ability. Some find it strange, others impressive—interesting—even neurotic. I’ve always had a great memory. I don’t know if it’s all that special. It’s been, to me, born of a repetitive quality I have: to read and reread things for weeks, months at a time; or to remember and re-remember recent and old experiences I’ve had.

During the mornings, I wonder, sometimes, what other people’s morning routines are—if, as soon as they wake up, they check the news, go on social media, roll over and kiss their partner. For me, memory is the thing I always do in the morning. I always go back to the things I’ve been reading, taking in the words for the second, third, fourth time. Or some days I just go out and walk, and think about experiences I can’t forget.

In this cabinet are both of these things: poems I’ve read and reread over and over, and turned into a found poem. And photos from my life: of experiences I always think about.

Doing both of these things—reading and remembering—feels like seeing someone you love after a period of time away, and there’s that small, churning anxiousness you have, wondering what has changed since the last time you saw them. I can’t say that revisiting writing or remembering your life is exactly the same as seeing the person you love; but it feels a lot like it. And so, perhaps, memory is a lot like love.

Poems used: “A Short Story of Falling” by Alice Oswald, “White Dog” by Carl Phillips, “Entrance” by Rainer Maria Rilke, “Essay on Craft” by Ocean Vuong, “To the Dead” by Frank Bidart, “Still Fallng for Her” by Sharon Olds, “Writing ‘Ellen West’” by Frank Bidart, “Didactic Elegy” by Ben Lerner, “Untitled” by Eileen Myles, “Her Birthday as Ashes in Seawater” by Sharon Olds, “Rain Coming In” by John Ashbery, “Custom” by Carl Phillips

A Love Story for Memory

It is the story of falling
to flow green and momentary

If only I could find lifting
rain to release her into:

This is nothing like wanting, losing
Oh, yes, released: I’d understand her better.

She wouldn’t come back, as if
our home was the last home before

the threshold, before the lifting sky.
And no one else could come. Yes

I’d build a cage of eyes, fingers, a throat
—god, I’d be done. I’d be human

I hope I existed—the intricately
dreamed structure that displeases,

disappoints you. This is not wisdom,
or self-pity. Falling for her is

the glimpses of, moments
alone, pen & vocabulary, at the table
I picture her at the edge of a ship
listening to hear anything

Music, rocks falling, my own flesh

Who is she, that thing inside me that has
stored so much—obsessed with my

journey & progress till I reach at last:
my body (hiding, adored, stupid).

She has so thoroughly told me
to feel because I felt. I didn’t

want to but she wanted it lifted
from my mind, the thousand

myriad voices in my head
she incarnated like pajamas without
a body moving down the stairs, collapsing

As towers collapse, this
is the image, repeated, producing anxiety

but she remembers the image, like
works of art the experience is sad

but reveals: hope. But hope
(like a gaze) is the act of violence

not aware of its violence. When I think
about that mess, I think of us, pulled

to the irreducible nothing—
Nothing to grieve, nothing to fear.

Natives of this place made of blood
hair, teeth, meat.

Her and me apart like someone
on this great planet and the truth.

We hang on, in our own infamy
Humility—it’s all we can do.

But this home, to be from and
have people ask about is not

Mere memory. Its love is dramatic,
as it should be. I look for memory

Everywhere, because it is everywhere
to be found. I know, I know better,

And should;—but I call it sacrifice:

the way you look at this poem
so that you can set it free. 

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