Drop by drip
prid by prod
she had me know
time to go.
Now is new
mew has won
calm bottoms up
Drop by drip
prid by prod
she had me know
time to go.
Now is new
mew has won
calm bottoms up
For days on end we go without
disavow our yielding yellows
surrender calls our voices
You knew what was coming
The abyss, an abyss anyway
I often want to share mine
with you but then I forget
your name your hands
Every morning now I finish
flex the memory stretch
credulity as they say no
more evidence than an empty
basement the attic too
the whole house spotless
not a speckle or a flake
of what used to take place
the romp stomp jerkings
the peaceful long sleeps
no need to hark but now
lend an ear or a hand.
Flower Girl again. Metamorphosis. Memory.
Come the following Sunday, I decided to stay on for another week at Hotel Julian, having found my time there restful and enjoyable, and while I was in the lobby at the front desk getting squared away, Flower Girl appeared once again. In any metamorphosis, one must decide whether to bring one’s memory along. If she was a goddess, Flower Girl was certainly not Mnemosyne. I don’t know why she pretended not to know me, to have never met me. Maybe I found our evening talks on the veranda of the hostel more engaging. I had recalled them several times since moving out, going over what was said, where we had sat, how the evening suns dropped into the ocean. I recalled her flowers, her yellow hair, her blue eyes, her smooth, sensitive skin, her happy smile that often broke into a sudden laugh, her frown when she seemed depressed or angry with something, her slightly freckled cheeks, the way she squeezed the arms of her overstuffed chair when she was about to exclaim something important, like she was about to experience an epiphany but held it off until she couldn’t hold it anymore. With each retelling in my mind, I strengthened my memory of our time together. She, on the other hand, may never have recalled those evenings, so they easily disappeared. Or maybe she confused, in her memory, her evenings with me with any number of other persons she had spent time with, all conversations blurring into an indistinct person and incoherent discussion. Perhaps she had other reasons for denying we’d ever met and talked and shared time together, alone, on the veranda of the hostel. I mentioned I’d heard her blues singing on the rooftop the other night. She thanked me for listening and said she lately had been showing up there every Thursday. When I asked her if she was also was staying at Hotel Julian she was again evasive and seemed to prefer not to answer, instead saying something obscure about being uncertain what her plans might be moving forward. Maybe she harbored regrets of our conversations, of sharing something too deeply of herself, and now she wished to reclaim that thing and keep it for herself, or to save it for someone else, and so with that new person the experience would be new and fresh and not a rehash of already spent emotion and epiphany. Or maybe she was the kind of person who only remembered bad experiences, a characteristic of the melancholic or depressed person, who relives moments better forgotten over and over again, and can’t seem to shake loose of them, while their happy memories sink to the bottom of a murky sea, and there I was, Prufrock’s “ragged claws,” or, forgetting the metaphor, quiet literally the lonely man leaning out the window of “twenty-nine three.”
“Rement and Regret”
is episode 22 of
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)
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City Without a Past
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shop til you drop, but
Tune to KDEL
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Come Back Soon!
This year the 4th of July fizzles
like the silverfish on the floor
of the black and white cassock
closet in the church up the hill
through Hilltop Park in the dark
walk thru ocean arch morning.
This year, 2020, I recall and recall:
and the fish dash
as we rush
from the Sacristy
to the Service,
the altar pickled
in red, green, and blue.
We can’t know how much or what we’ve forgotten,
and where we are certain we remember we might
be mistaken; thus the value of the still life which
fixes or remedies one of the problems of our time.
After all, I really don’t recall
if she said BANANA YELLOW SUNRISE
or YELLOW BANANA SUNRISE
or SUNRISE, or SUNSHINE.
What I remember is that I got one wrong.
So I was still in the game, so to say,
if you want to look on the bright side.
About fell asleep waiting on doctor to come
under beguiling wall poster of limbic system.
“I’m going to give you three words, and I’ll ask
for them back before we’re done.”
I repeated each word after her:
yellow – yellow; banana – banana;
sunrise – sunrise. Then she moved
for the cuff and I rolled up my sleeve
and she asked how Susan was doing.
Sunsee, sunsaw, I thought about
Buckminster Fuller’s neologisms,
and also considered the possibility
the doctor had given me not three
but four words, sunrise compound,
two words in one meaning. There
was a time I might have discussed
this with her, but no more. I felt
my arm swell as the cuff tightened.
Had I fallen in the last year? No,
not that I could recall, small smile.
Trying to keep her three words
top of mind, I inverted them:
banana yellow sunshine, locking
them together as a descriptive
phrase, cleverly reducing work
from three chores to one.
How many beers did I drink
in a week’s time? Finally, she asked
for the three words back,
catching me off guard.
She sat quite close to me,
her face to mine, and I saw
her nonplussed, and I knew
something was wrong.
As I left her office to go down
to the lab to leave some blood,
I thought about the difference
between sunrise and sunshine,
sunshine like adding a 7th
to a sunrise triad.
In Nabokov’s “Speak Memory,” remembrance becomes a narrator, and narrators are not to be confused with authors, even (perhaps especially) non-fiction narrators, and often not to be trusted, as memory is often impeachable. Narrators are often unreliable. To remember is to be mindful, to call to mind. The writer must silence memory, then speak.
Mindful of what? Who calls to mind? “Remember the time…,” someone asks. “Yes, the Angelus bells had just finished ringing. It must have been noon. I remember the dying echo of the bells. Not dying, falling, as if the bells were still with us, but silent, as indeed they were, and they would ring again, and that would recall dinner.” Is memory an angel come to incarnate? Memory made flesh. Well, made story, anyway. Memory is not words, has no language. Look Homeword, Angel.
Memory is partial. Fragmentary. Unfinished. Abandoned for the present. And memory is partial in the sense of being one-sided. Memory favors. What happened to the trees as the bells passed through their leaves? How did they taste, the thick iron rings? Did your ears ring through the afternoon? Could you feel the bells in your bowels? Something else called to mind. Did you touch the bells?
Memory is revisionist, as in historical revisionism. Memory is a time machine that can move in only one direction. If we were not mindful at the time, of the time, how can our later memory be accurate at all? So we put memory in the third person, and we recall instructions, how things were made and can be made again, how to ride a surfboard or a bicycle, how to write.
“At the time in question, he simply was not very mindful of what was going on around him. Still, he insisted on certain memories.” These would be memories he needed now to continue.
The notion things change fast doubles in intensity roughly every two days. It takes a couple of days for most changes to sink in. “Who moved the cat dish?” I ask, combing out dry crumbs from between my toes. “Oh, I changed that the other day,” Susan says. Moore’s law observed amplifying speeds doubling every two years. Too bad the Market hasn’t managed as well. If we understand the laws influencing changes, we’re able to merge smoothly into the new wave. Joe’s law says internal speeds slow inversely to external speeds. As the speed of life increases, what we’re feeling inside slows to a crawl. I can feel the cornstarch thickening in my spinning stomach. The waves keep coming. We can roll under, ride up and over, dive through, or turn around and catch one. We get out of the water and consider our memoir, what just happened, what just changed. The waves look different from the beach, not what we remember at all. We get our breath back. We consider the last wipeout.
What is change? Do things actually change, or do we simply wake up one morning and remember things differently? Oliver Sacks, in “Speak, Memory” (New York Review of Books), his title borrowed from Nabokov’s memoir, said, “There is no easy way of distinguishing a genuine memory or inspiration, felt as such, from those that have been borrowed or suggested.” Our experiences – real, imagined, vicarious, read, heard – become stories we retell. “Memory is dialogic,” Sacks says (made from communication with others), “and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.” I’ve only read a portion of Sacks’s latest book, “Hallucinations,” an excerpt, “Altered States: Self-experiments in chemistry,” in the 27 Aug 2012 New Yorker. How does Sacks remember anything? Stories like Sacks’s always remind me of a Salvador Dali interview. When asked if he took drugs to produce his surreal art, Dali responded: “Why should I take the drug? I am the drug.” But Sacks obviously has a good memory, or memories. What’s a good memory?
Speaking of hallucinations and memories, I’ve just finished a Bill Bryson book, recommended by Susan, “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir” (Random House, 2006). Bryson was born in 1951, and the book is about him growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950’s. We see his memory at work, his memory assisted by a bibliography of books about the world he was born into. That world is given particular focus through his witty anecdotes of home, neighborhood, school, and town, personal reflections mixed in with the historical, researched view. It’s an easy to read, enjoyable book, almost subversive the way he works into the telling what might otherwise be a dry history book. We learn, or are reminded, of much of 1950’s culture, politics, family and societal values. Most of the telling, while written for an adult audience, sounds like it’s coming from a kid’s attitude. The kid reports what’s happening to him, but he doesn’t always understand why it’s happening – several levels of irony at work. Susan set me up. “Read this page,” she said, handing me the book one day, “out loud.” I did, and when I got to the bottom I laughed out loud. I didn’t see the joke coming. Bryson figures things out, like the rest of us, a kid on the go. It helps to remember some things. Other things, it helps to forget. “Grape was the one flavor that could actually make you hallucinate; I once saw to the edge of the universe while drinking grape Nehi” (278) Bryson says, blending Dali with Sacks.
Bryson is a prolific writer with an encyclopedic style. It’s sometimes hard to keep track of all the details, facts, numbers, all startling, though you might have been there, too. The chapter on the Bomb brought back memories of the classic classroom aid raid drills where kids practiced scrunching under their school desks in preparation for atomic attack. No wonder the generation grew cynical. Really, these desks were going to protect us? From what? Not from our memories. Here’s an example of how Bryson blends the personal with the researched: “I watched a lot of television in those days. We all did. By 1955, the average American child had watched five thousand hours of television, up from zero hours five years earlier” (279). And then he lists his favorite shows, a bunch of them. His favorite show was the “George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,” which pretty much spanned the 50’s. The key word back there is average, which Bryson was not, but no one is average. Individuals are too unique for any kind of averaging that makes sense (“People are Strange,” sang The Doors, a decade later). For one thing, it doesn’t sound like Bryson watched much TV with his family, but alone, in his bedroom, after he had collected enough cash on a paper route to buy his own TV. Most families I knew had but one television set, and it occupied the living room, an electronic shrine. In our house, it was a shrine, a statue of Mary on top standing on a doily and leaning against the antennae – its tips wrapped in tin foil to improve reception. For a time, it’s where we prayed the rosary together, for which the TV had to be off, though. But the concept of average is a Madison Avenue marketing ploy, and in school, average was a way of keeping kids in line. Anyway, remember the end of the broadcast day, the eerie signal that accompanied the black and white lined diagram on a field of gray, the tubes glowing red-orange like stationary fireflies? Or did I hallucinate that? Then came the teen years and kids grew subversive by not watching TV, while their parents watched the war every night around 6, just before prime time.
The notion that decades of years fix boundaries of anything is silly, but as we leave Bryson’s book on the 1950’s, we are reminded that everything the decade is remembered for is all gone. There is nothing left of the 1950’s. Everything has changed, and while the 1950’s certainly rang up a toll of bad stuff, all dutifully set down by Bryson, the fact that everything changed is not necessarily a good thing. Gone is the closeness, the walks downtown to the grand theatres, the churchyard dinners, the thousands of family owned farms, the tiny farmhouses under trees alongside two lane roads that passed through small towns. Bryson’s view of the 1950’s is a view of a kid growing up in the 50’s. His preference for something like the “Burns and Allen Show” points to something important: George and Gracie were not products of the 1950’s. They came from a different era, their TV show an example of McLuhan’s theory that every new technology takes its content from the content of a previous form: picaresque to vaudeville to radio to TV. It might have looked new, but it was already old. But today things move so fast that we can hardly calculate those changes. Certainly it doesn’t any longer take a decade. Already everything from two days ago is changed, if not two hours ago, if not from the beginning of this post. Dang! I just put my foot down into the kitty litter box. I would like to say I’m going for a swim, but someone moved the ocean.