As I see it, when I remember something, a new version of the past is created, which, however much like the previous versions, is subtly altered by the very act of recall, along with whatever else has happened or not happened since the original was first made and lived. This is why, when I am suddenly confronted with hard evidence from bygone years, I will sometimes go into a kind of momentary shock, as my mind tries to reconcile memory with fact. And then the shock sends out waves that bring to the surface other related events, each of which needs to be examined in turn. On one end of the spectrum, this results in a pleasant stroll down memory lane; on the other, a complete reexamination of identity; and there are a variety of painfully pleasant, or pleasantly painful, possibilities in between. The better I understand this process, the easier it is to avoid being imprisoned by it and caught up in the numbing cycle of living in the past. Whatever the trigger, cause, or reason behind them, my memories, like my thoughts, arise of their own accord. I do not judge them, or label them as good or bad; I listen to them politely and carry on, grateful I am here and can still write gibberish.
Tea Stains and Powder Clouds
A coat of paint in my mother’s bedroom, long overdue.
Pictures down, nails from the wall.
Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life” framed inside a narrow mirror.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.
Dead fly on her window sill.
My father’s dog tags hanging from the chifferobe —
a word we borrowed from a book she loved.
The carpet around her bed worn down
from countless trips to the bathroom.
Tea stains and powder clouds.
Workman’s ladder: thirty-nine dollars.
“At one time,” he said two days ago, “this room was yellow.”
I think of Van Gogh, and the yellow house on the corner
of Avenue 408 and Road 74, half a mile from where I grew up.
North of there, a neighbor killed himself in his pickup
beside a pump house down a vineyard row.
Farewell behind a clump of fiddlenecks.
One brown wire across the road, from power pole to power pole.
Holes in the wall left by molly screws.
My dead father taking notes, windows closed, engine on.
“So far, so good. But a second coat will even up those walls.”
Songs and Letters, May 5, 2009
The Painting of You, Author’s Press Series, 2009