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Forget How to Remember How to Forget

Forget How to Remember How to Forget

“I have a rotten memory” began
The American version of that long
French novel: and save for the telling word
Leaping in all its colors out of the
Grayish blank, or for the mad turn of phrase
That I, unyielding judge, committed to
My bedlam memory, I cannot come
Up with exactly what was said even
In a recent conversation. Books can
Remember, for they have written it all
Down—they are in themselves all written down—
And, as Phaedrus was famously told in
That lovely grove (and this was written down),
Writing is remembering’s enemy.

Writing it down—thereby writing it up,
The “it” here being language or event—
Allows what was told to recall itself.
The flux of our experience will dry
Into mere flecks; once-great spots of time now
Are filmy moments of place, on the page,
In the full course—or somewhere on the banks—
Of all that streams behind me. And the dear
Name of oh, Whatshername, herself—oh, yes
Mnemosyne (lost for a minute in
An overstuffed, messy drawer, crammed with names)
Is all I have to call on for a guide
To wherever back up the relentless
River I might momently have to go.

And who, when hindsight frays, would want the most
Obvious compensation of foresight,
Prophecy creeping into the places
Recall was slowly vacating? Only
The young with so much to look forward to
And little to remember could call it
A reasonable deal, and better to
Go on climbing, as steps on steps arise
And it all keeps dissolving into that
Father of Waters that every fresh
Moment originates anew, the while
Some sort of sweet, silent judgment commutes
All that, accessible or not, streams out
Behind you into time already served.

John Hollander from Figurehead

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