When Memory Rubs Up Against Imagination

[Video: a multimedia installation called Memory Lane, by artists Félix Luque and Iñigo Bilbao. You can read more about the installation here. But — vis-à-vis this post — I was most struck by this portion of the description (emphasis added): “The installation forms in this way a coherent unit: sand rock and landscape… are two aspects of the same investigation on memory and space, on [the] perception of reality and on the human capacity of generating fiction, either by means of a simple child’s game or of a complex technological process.”]

From whiskey river:

If only we could listen more carefully, look more closely… Someday something will happen, the inner reality will stand revealed. At the same time I realize that this sense of mystery, of secrets dwelling in these streets, in this park, is fleeting and hard to defend. If someone were to ask me ironically, “Mr. Zagajewski, what actual mystery do you have in mind?,” I’d be hard-pressed to answer. I also know that there are people, some of them highly intelligent, who can never be brought to acknowledge the postulate of a mystery hidden in a city, or a park, or a quiet street at dusk. No, they’d say, everything can be checked and measured, so and so many bird species make their home in the park, including two subspecies of woodpeckers, along with twelve squirrels, maybe two martens, and five bums. The policemen on duty might easily survey the park and write up an unbiased report conclusively proving that no secrets had been unearthed.

(Adam Zagajewski [source])

and (second stanza):

The Nail

Some dictator or other had gone into exile, and now reports were coming about his regime,
the usual crimes, torture, false imprisonment, cruelty and corruption, but then a detail:
that the way his henchmen had disposed of enemies was by hammering nails into their skulls.
Horror, then, what mind does after horror, after that first feeling that you’ll never catch your breath,
mind imagines—how not be annihilated by it?—the preliminary tap, feels it in the tendons of the hand,
feels the way you do with your nail when you’re fixing something, making something, shelves, a bed;
the first light tap to set the slant, and then the slightly harder tap, to em-bed the tip a little more…

No, no more: this should be happening in myth, in stone, or paint, not in reality, not here;
it should be an emblem of itself, not itself, something that would mean, not really have to happen,
something to go out, expand in implication from that unmoved mass of matter in the breast;
as in the image of an anguished face, in grief for us, not us as us, us as in a myth, a moral tale,
a way to tell the truth that grief is limitless, a way to tell us we must always understand
it’s we who do such things, we who set the slant, embed the tip, lift the sledge and drive the nail,
drive the nail which is the axis upon which turns the brutal human world upon the world.

(C. K. Williams [source])

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I Remember, Therefore I Am

Image: 'Self-Portrait,' by Alyssa L. Miller on Flickr

[Image: “Self-Portrait,” by Alyssa L. Miller; found it on Flickr, and use it here under a Creative Commons license. (Thank you!) The glib “if someone looks to their right, they’re probably lying” trick, it turns out, is not as true as was once thought. Finer-tuned studies, especially mapping what the brain is doing when one’s eyes move in a given direction; looking up and to the left, as the photographer apparently was for this photo, is commonly associated with remembering visual images. Now, this photo was taken in 2009: if I contacted the photographer and asked her about the circumstances, odds are she wouldn’t remember if, back then, she was remembering any image in particular — but in the present, while thinking about which photo I was referring to, then, then she might look up and to the left.]

From whiskey river:

Memory, and time, both immaterial, are rivers with no banks, and constantly merging. Both escape our will, though we depend on them. Measured, but measured by whom or by what? The one is inside, the other, outside, or so it seems, but is that true? Time seems also buried deep in us, but where? Memory is right here, in the head, but it can exit, abandon the head, leave it behind, disappear. Memory, a sanctuary of infinite patience.

Is memory produced by us, or is it us? Our identity is very likely whatever our memory decides to retain. But let’s not presume that memory is a storage room. It’s not a tool for being able to think, it’s thinking, before thinking. It also makes an (apparently) simple thing like crossing the room, possible. It’s impossible to separate it from what it remembers…

We can admit that memory resurrects the dead, but these remain within their world, not ours. The universe covers the whole, a warm blanket.

But this memory is the glue that keeps the universe as one: although immaterial, it makes being possible, it is being. If an idea didn’t remember to think, it wouldn’t be. If a chair wasn’t there, it wouldn’t be tomorrow. If I didn’t remember that I am, I won’t be. We can also say that the universe is itself the glue that keeps it going, therefore it is memory in action and in essence, in becoming and in being. Because it remembers itself, it exists. Because it exists, it remembers.

(Etel Adnan[no canonical source online, but quoted in the reliable brain pickings])

and (italicized stanza):

Passing Along

People who walk by carry something so light
that no one can tell what it is. I know that burden,
lift it carefully from them and take it away
as they go on walking toward the sky.

Waiting here still I cherish whatever they find—
miles of lupine ghosting the hills,
an accurate bird whetting its call
beyond the hedgerows where they disappear.

“All I ask,” my mother said, “no matter the years
and the life we have, is that when you leave
you turn and wave.” That was long ago.
I like to remember—I turn, I wave.

(William Stafford [again, no canonical source online; quoted in Artful Dodge])

and:

Morning in a New Land

In trees still dripping night some nameless birds
Woke, shook out their arrowy wings, and sang,
Slowly, like finches sifting through a dream.
The pink sun fell, like glass, into the fields.
Two chestnuts, and a dapple gray,
Their shoulders wet with light, their dark hair streaming,
Climbed the hill. The last mist fell away,

And under the trees, beyond time’s brittle drift,
I stood like Adam in his lonely garden
On that first morning, shaken out of sleep,
Rubbing his eyes, listening, parting the leaves,
Like tissue on some vast, incredible gift.

(Mary Oliver [source])

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“A Long and Sweet, Delicious Crack of Wood in My Teeth”

'064 - Day 5 Ayeyarwady River - A serene view of Ava Bridge,' by Neville Wootton on Flickr

[Image: “064 – Day 5 Ayeyarwady River – A serene view of Ava Bridge,” by Neville Wootton. Found on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license. (Thank you!) The image’s beauty is proportionate to its scale (click it to enlarge), but at any scale it seems an image of a place remembered, but never actually visited.]

Not from whiskey river:

Theories of Time and Space

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion — dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp — buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry — tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph — who you were —
will be waiting when you return

(Natasha Trethewey [source])

…and:

Fetch

Go, bring back the worthless stick.
Of memory,” I almostimage added.
But she wouldn’t understand, naturally.
There is the word and the thing

adhering. So far so good.
Metaphor, drawer of drafting tools —
spill it on the study floor, animal says,
that we might at least see

how an expensive ruler tastes.
Yesterday I pissed and barked and ate
because that’s what waking means.
Thus has God solved time

for me — here, here. What you call
memory is a long and sweet,
delicious crack of wood in my teeth
I bring back and bring back and bring back.

(Jeffrey Skinner [source])

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The Familiar, the New

'Hiraethm,' by Stewart Black on Flickr

[Image: “Hiraeth,” by Stewart Black. Found it at Flickr.com, and used here under a Creative Commons license. For more on the idea of hiraeth, see the passage below by Paula Petro.]

From whiskey river:

Theories of Time and Space

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion — dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp — buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry — tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph — who you were —
will be waiting when you return

(Natasha Trethewey [source])

and:

The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.

(Rebecca Solnit [source])

and:

The Destination

I wanted something, I wanted. I could not have it.
Irremediable rock of refusal, this world thick with bird song,
tender with starfish and apples.
How calming it is to say, “Turn right at the second corner,”
and be understood,
and see things arrive as they should at their own destination.
Yet we speak in riddles —
“Turn back at the silence.” “Pass me the mountain.”
To the end we each nod, pretending to understand.

(Jane Hirshfield [source])

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An Infinity of Reflexive Trajectories

one view of a triple torus

[Image (courtesy of Wikipedia): one of numerous graphic representations of a mathematical (and perhaps physical) space called a 3-torus (also three-torus, or triple torus). For more information, see below.]

From whiskey river:

We are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness is the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason. But we cannot just walk into the cavern and look around. Most of what we think we know about our minds is pseudo-knowledge. We are all such shocking poseurs, so good at inflating the importance of what we think we value.

(Iris Murdoch [source])

…and:

Every person passing through this life will unknowingly leave something and take something away. Most of this “something” cannot be seen or heard or numbered or scientifically detected or counted. It’s what we leave in the minds of other people and what they leave in ours.

(Robert Fulghum [source])

…and:

Poem to My Daughter

The sky has, is, one exit, one excuse,
and if I’m dead now that I’m saying this,
I can’t vouch for my transition from life
as having been rough or even evident.
Have I tried turning it off and then on again?
Have I tried throwing it against the wall?
Getting to know you, getting to know all
about you getting the mirror to mean
not only me, and thinking I must look
dumber than I look — dumber, then, than prose —
I walk through the laundry room regretting
getting the weekend done this way, as if
backstage, and say the name of your birthplace
as if I’d lost a hundred dollars there,
which I may have … Dear, when nowhere, don’t do
as those of us in nowhere do — just go.

(Graham Foust [source])

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In the Land of What’sToCome

[Video: The Hello Strangers, last seen at RAMH in October 2014, released this video cover of Doris Day’s 1956 classic earlier this year — not coincidentally, on Day’s 91st birthday. Also not coincidentally, their grandfather, Ronald Chace, had both sung with Doris Day and played second trombone in Les Brown’s Big Band during Day’s tenure with Brown in the 1940s. The Strangers recorded this song in Chace’s memory.]

From whiskey river:

After Thanksgiving

Lord, as Rilke says, the year bears down toward winter, past
the purification of the trees, the darkened brook.
Only 4:45, and the sky’s sheer black
clasps two clear planets and a skinny moon
as we drive quietly home from the airport,
the last kid gone.

The time of preparation’s over, the time of
harvesting the seed, the husk, the kernel, saving
what can be saved—weaves of sun like
rags of old flannel, provident peach stones,
pies, pickles, berry wines to
hold the sweetness for a few more months.

Now the mountains will settle into their old
cold habits, now the white
birch bones will rise
like all those thoughts we’ve tried to repress:
madness of the solstice, phosphorescent
logic that rules the fifteen-hour night!

Our children, gorged, encouraged, have taken off
in tiny shuddering planes. Plump with stuffing,
we too hurry away, holding hands, holding on.
Soon it’ll be January, soon snow will
shuffle down, cold feathers, swathing us in
inches of white silence—

and the ways of the ice
will be narrow, delicate.

(Sandra M. Gilbert [source])

and:

Language is the element of definition, the defining and descriptive incantation. It puts the coin between our teeth. It whistles the boat up. It shows us the city of light across the water. Without language there is no poetry, without poetry there’s just talk. Talk is cheap and proves nothing. Poetry is dear and difficult to come by. But it poles us across the river and puts a music in our ears. It moves us to contemplation. And what we contemplate, what we sing our hymns to and offer our prayers to, is what will reincarnate us in the natural world, and what will be our one hope for salvation in the What’sToCome.

(Charles Wright [source])

and:

How To Listen

Tilt your head slightly to one side and lift
your eyebrows expectantly. Ask questions.

Delve into the subject at hand or let
things come randomly. Don’t expect answers.

Forget everything you’ve ever done.
Make no comparisons. Simply listen.

Listen with your eyes, as if the story
you are hearing is happening right now.

Listen without blinking, as if a move
might frighten the truth away forever.

Don’t attempt to copy anything down.
Don’t bring a camera or a recorder.

This is your chance to listen carefully.
Your whole life might depend on what you hear.

(Joyce Sutphen [source — click on the ‘Two Poems’ link])

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A Direction in Which to Look

[Video: Linda Ronstadt sings “Blue Bayou,” in a performance filmed in September, 1977.
(Lyrics here.)]

From whiskey river:

Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.

(Rebecca Solnit [source])

and (italicized portion):

New Year’s Day

The rain this morning falls
on the last of the snow

and will wash it away. I can smell
the grass again, and the torn leaves

being eased down into the mud.
The few loves I’ve been allowed

to keep are still sleeping
on the West Coast. Here in Virginia

I walk across the fields with only
a few young cows for company.

Big-boned and shy,
they are like girls I remember

from junior high, who never
spoke, who kept their heads

lowered and their arms crossed against
their new breasts. Those girls

are nearly forty now. Like me,
they must sometimes stand

at a window late at night, looking out
on a silent backyard, at one

rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls
of other people’s houses.

They must lie down some afternoons
and cry hard for whoever used

to make them happiest,
and wonder how their lives

have carried them
this far without ever once

explaining anything. I don’t know
why I’m walking out here

with my coat darkening
and my boots sinking in, coming up

with a mild sucking sound
I like to hear. I don’t care

where those girls are now.
Whatever they’ve made of it

they can have. Today I want   
to resolve nothing.

I only want to walk
a little longer in the cold

blessing of the rain,   
and lift my face to it.

(Kim Addonizio [source])

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The Trap of What Never (Might Have) Happened

10th July 2008 - The Dream Diary, by practicalowl on Flickr

[Image: “10th July 2008 – The Dream Diary,” by user practicalowl on Flickr.com. (Right-click and view in a new window/tab for a much larger version.)) Used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

Song for the Deer and Myself to Return On

This morning when I looked out the roof window
before dawn and a few stars were still caught
in the fragile weft of ebony night
I was overwhelmed. I sang the song Louis taught me:
a song to call the deer in Creek, when hunting,
and I am certainly hunting something as magic as deer
in this city far from the hammock of my mother’s belly.
It works, of course, and deer came into this room
and wondered at finding themselves
in a house near downtown Denver.
Now the deer and I are trying to figure out a song
to get them back, to get all of us back,
because if it works I’m going with them.
And it’s too early to call Louis
and nearly too late to go home.

for Louis Oliver

(Joy Harjo [source])

and:

Some religions call life a dream, or a dreaming, but what if it is a memory? What if this new world isn’t new at all but a memory of a new world?

What if we really do keep making the same mistakes again and again, never remembering the lessons to learn but never forgetting either that it had been different, that there was a pristine place?

Perhaps the universe is a memory of our mistakes.

(Jeanette Winterson [source])

and:

Birthday
(excerpt)

I know this world is far from perfect.
I am not the type to mistake a streetlight for the moon.
I know our wounds are deep as the Atlantic.
But every ocean has a shoreline
and every shoreline has a tide
that is constantly returning
to wake the songbirds in our hands,
to wake the music in our bones,
to place one fearless kiss
on the mouth of that new born river
that has to run through the center of our hearts
to find its way home.

(Andrea Gibson [source])

and:

Shuttered Windows

To speak of the smell and feel
of books, the erotics of the text,
has begun to sound perverse

One by one, the old places of worship
churches, bookstores, Nature herself
become quaint and are vacated

In their stead a gleaming, ambitious screen
part shuttered window, part distorting mirror
full of wandering, restless spirits

Like so many ghosts in limbo —
free of the tyranny of bodies,
yet aching for their phantom limbs.

(Yahia Lababidi [source])

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Still, Life

'Snow Face, Straight On' (2011): Gus, the Labradoodle, in a winter photo by Janet Nezon

[Image: “Snow Face, Straight On” (2011): Gus, the Labradoodle, in a wintry photo
by Janet Nezon at her
Lessons from Gus blog]

From whiskey river:

…It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it… I know that sounds a little pious.

(David Foster Wallace [source]

…and:

Motto

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.

(Bertolt Brecht [source])

…and:

Pleasures

First look from morning’s window
The rediscovered book
Fascinated faces
Snow, the change of the seasons
The newspaper
The dog
Dialectics
Showering, swimming
Old music
Comfortable shoes
Comprehension
New music
Writing, planting
Traveling
Singing
Being friendly.

(Bertolt Brecht [source])

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Perfect Moments: The Girl Group on the Bus

[Image: The Boy and his classmates, en route from childhood, almost all of them apparently terrified. Click image to enlarge to a less eye-strainingly viewable version, or choose an alternate blowup: left side, full-size (1.0MB); right side, full-size (1.0MB); entire original scanned version (2MB). The Boy sits, flat-headed and a little jug-eared, in the back row, second from left.]

If you’re a blogger: did you ever have that one post which you never thought you’d write? (If you’re not a blogger, just bear with me a moment.) I don’t mean a post too controversial and/or confidential in subject matter. I mean a post about a subject you just didn’t think you could do justice to: it would be too long, or too difficult to write, would take too much out of you. That ever happen to you?

I’ve had this post on my mind for years. Running After My Hat is over four-and-a-half-years old, and I’ve thought about this post that whole time. (The subject, and the incident which the story describes, has been lurking in my head since boyhood, unforgettable and pretty much never far out of reach.) It’s not controversial and it’s not confidential. But boy did I want to write about it. And boy did I want to do right by it…

The photo above was always going to be included with the post. So for a while, I had an excuse for not writing it: I hadn’t scanned the photo. Then I lost the photo for a few years. Then I found it again. I eventually scanned it, a few months ago… And then I dithered.

I’ve been working on the post now for weeks. (Hence, another reason for my recent all-but-invisibility online.) It is, I think, about as done as it will ever get. But at 3,000-plus words (seven pages if printed), it’s way too long to include in a real post — not very nice for anyone who reads RAMH via email or RSS subscription. So I’ve put it all in a separate standalone page of its own. I’ve included the first couple of paragraphs below. If I haven’t scared you away from it by emphasizing its length, I hope you’ll enjoy the entire piece there.

And thanks — not just to readers (that should go without saying), but especially to the post’s never-forgotten subjects.

That last year of elementary school would be forever, in The Boy’s mind, dotted with the footprints of change, of some things started anew and others overturned. Among other upheavals which touched him, he paid attention to a Presidential election for the first time; The Addams FamilyBewitched and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer premiered on TV; the Warren Commission report came out; his friend Lindsay moved away; the Yankees (Lindsay’s favorite team) played their last World Series for a looong time and, shockingly, lost; a country named Vietnam first entered his consciousness; and with the rest of the eighth-grade class, he visited The Museum for the first time ever.

The Museum was one of two large and world-famous museums of science in the nearest city. It specialized in what was called “natural history,” a subject of which The Boy had made a hobby since, well, since he was The Little Boy: rocks and minerals, plant life, dinosaurs, birds and animals… For this reason alone, The Boy looked forward to this field trip. He couldn’t imagine how the excursion could affect him more deeply.

As would become his habit in life, however, The Boy failed to anticipate the large inner events to be found in real-world ones, no matter how small or how outsized…

continue reading “Perfect Moments: The Girl Group on the Bus” —

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