“I am convinced that memory has a gravitational force. It is constantly attracting us. Those who have a memory are able live in the fragile present moment. Those who have none don’t live anywhere.” ~ Patricio Guzmán, from Nostalgia for the Light
Sunday afternoon. Sunny and not so cold, 50 degrees.
So late last night I wrote another poem. I’ve had the first line in my head for about a week, mulling it over, and then it came to me. It’s about my mom, so I really can’t tell if it’s any good. But I like the title . . .
Anyway, I’m hoping to put up the tree today, but I’m at the mercy of my sons, so I’m not counting on it. You see, Corey took all of the Christmas stuff—decorations, wrapping paper, tree—and put it in my mom’s garage, which is huge. I need all of it to come back over here. Alexis still has Corey’s truck, although I found out that Mike’s been driving it, which doesn’t make sense because it costs a fortune to fill up, but the Lex saga continues unabated, and I don’t want to talk about that right now.
But because I don’t have the truck, I need Eamonn’s SUV. Unfortunately, on Friday, one of Eamonn’s closest friends died. I don’t know the circumstances yet, but I’m really hoping it wasn’t a suicide. So Eamonn is pretty devastated, and I don’t want to push him to bring over everything, even though he said earlier that he would help.
Brett and Em are coming over to do the outside lights, and they are bringing some stuff with them, but he can’t fit a lot into that old Honda, so I have no idea what I’m going to have here and what’s going to still be in the garage, and so once again, everything is much more complicated than it should be, and stressing over it and everything else is not helping me to get in the holiday spirit, as it were.
“Longing is not memory, but rather what is selected from memory’s museum. Longing is selective, like an adept gardener. It is the replaying of a memory after its blemishes have been removed.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish
So perhaps I shall turn the rest of this into a random thoughts post . . . yes . . . why not?
- I have read that a movie is on the horizon called Big Eyes, or something like that; it is based on those pictures of children with huge eyes, popular in the 60s, I think.
- I have never understood the attraction of those images, but I remember that one of the grocery stores that my mom frequented gave away reproductions.
- That was when you could actually get encyclopedias and such for coupons earned on purchases. (Remember green stamps? I do, vaguely) . . .
- Apparently the artist (Keane) who became famous for painting those images did not actually paint them. His wife did.
- Another woman shafted by the system.
- Those pictures always freaked me out as a kid.
- The irony is that today, most cartoons and comics (especially Asian anime) feature characters with over-sized eyes.
- I still find that kind of characterization creepy.
“Memory belongs to the imagination.” ~ Alain Robbe-Grillet, from The Paris Review, “The Art of Fiction, No. 91”
So since this post is kind of about memory, here are a few more random ones:
The first bit of verse that I memorized: “Where the bee sucks, there suck I: /In a cowslip’s bell I lie;”
- It was by Shakespeare; I was seven or eight.
- The first book of poetry that I ever owned: A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson
- I think that it was given to me right before we moved to the Philippines after my father retired from the Navy.
- I once thought about memorizing “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Just to see if I could.
- I was 11.
- I remember the first line of a truly dreadful poem that I wrote in the 9th grade: “I, am nothing, without you”
- I thought that putting the commas in would give me pauses.
“Nothing is left of that time beyond memories, only a faint remembering.” ~ Cesare Pavese
Do you want to know something ironic? I think my memories of my early life are more easily accessible than my memories of the last ten years.
- My mother once put me up to engaging my father in conversation in a very proper British accent while Dad was talking to someone else.
- I did it. I remember I began with, “Father, dear. Mummy has . . .”
- That’s all I remember of that, but can you imagine how strange that man must have thought I was, how strange our family was?
- I once spent about four weeks speaking in nothing but a Cockney accent
- It became so much of a habit that I actually answered the phone by saying, “‘Ello, luv.”
- I really should have been on the stage.
- Speaking of which, I gave serious thought to moving to New York right after high school graduation, but I’m pretty sure my mother talked me out of it.
- As someone who loved to pretend and act, how did I end up with three kids who are all afraid to be on a stage?
“I was going to be a memory when I grew up.” ~ Alejandro Zambra, from Ways of Going Home
Let’s bring this full circle:
- When I was about 8 or 9, my mother told me that I could marry the Prince of Wales.
- Where did my mother get her airs from?
- She never got over leaving London and coming back to the states.
- I wish she had gone back to London for a visit, yet I’m glad that she didn’t because the London of today is nothing like the London of my childhood.
- I just had a flash of a wild memory: My dad shipped his convertible to London when he was transferred there. We used to go on country drives on Sunday, you know, family, friends, picnics . . . I had seen in some movie how this glamorous woman sat up on the back seat of the convertible and let the wind blow through her hair. You guessed it, while no one was paying any attention to me, I got up on the back seat (on the part that housed the folded soft top) and sat there for a good part of the drive until my mother turned around and saw me.
- I still wonder if my dad saw me in the rear view mirror and didn’t do anything because he thought it was funny.
- No seat belts for us.
- I guess I got my airs from my mother and movies.
My new poem is below. I’ve also included a particularly beautiful poem by Philip Shultz, not because I’m comparing mine to his, but because I love how it ties in to the idea of memory.
More later. Peace.
All images are by Armenian artist Hovsep Pushman (1877-1966).
Music by Memoryhouse, “Old Haunts (Aurora Remix)”
Shopping at Wal-Mart the Week before Christmas
It all began with the Almond Rocha, you see,
the richly colored pink and gold tin
I took from the shelf without thinking,
one of my mother’s favorites, even though
each time I gifted her this sweet,
I was sure to hear a weary sigh
followed by the words,
I have diabetes, you know,
even as she dug into the can
for one of the gold, foil-wrapped
butter crunch toffees, as if somehow
the knowledge of her condition
had slipped my mind
sometime since the last time
she had reminded me
of the circumstance she herself
ignored so judiciously,
but every Christmas
I would give her a large tin
because it was the only present
I was sure she wouldn’t hate, the only one
that wouldn’t have to go back to the store
for one reason or another,
and I’ll let you in
on another little secret—
I didn’t find a single empty tin
when I spent those long winter days
erasing her from the home
in which she had spent almost
a half century, not one
nestled among the endless packs
of charity greeting cards
with their insipid messages,
not a single one
hidden among the baskets
filled with long-dried bingo markers
in red and green and blue,
not even one left neglected
in the old bar, where funnily enough,
I found an almost empty bottle of tequila
and a very dusty liqueur bottle
shaped like a monk.
So I replaced the new tin on the shelf,
among all the other holidays confections,
left my half-filled cart
of soaps, nail polish,
and lemons, and promptly
walked out into the night
before the memory of her voice
could catch me.
December 14, 2014
Talking to Ourselves
A woman in my doctor’s office last week
couldn’t stop talking about Niagara Falls,
the difference between dog and deer ticks,
how her oldest boy, killed in Iraq, would lie
with her at night in the summer grass, singing
Puccini. Her eyes looked at me but saw only
the saffron swirls of the quivering heavens.
Yesterday, Mr. Miller, our tidy neighbor,
stopped under our lopsided maple to explain
how his wife of sixty years died last month
of Alzheimer’s. I stood there, listening to
his longing reach across the darkness with
each bruised breath of his eloquent singing.
This morning my five-year-old asked himself
why he’d come into the kitchen. I understood
he was thinking out loud, personifying himself,
but the intimacy of his small voice was surprising.
When my father’s vending business was failing,
he’d talk to himself while driving, his lips
silently moving, his black eyes deliquescent.
He didn’t care that I was there, listening,
what he was saying was too important.
“Too important,” I hear myself saying
in the kitchen, putting the dishes away,
and my wife looks up from her reading
and asks, “What’s that you said?”
~ Philip Schultz