red flannel pantry

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room

literary amnesia

stones in the gardenRecently members of my book club were discussing potential books via e-mail, and a book by Marilynne Robinson was suggested. I reminded the group that we had read another book of hers, Home, back in 2009. Some did not recall having read it and were dismayed at this lapse of book memory. I confess that the only reason I remember is that it had been my pick. The responsibility of choosing a book for others to read is weighty and leaves a deeper impression.

Today Daughter #2 told me that her literature class is working on a poetry unit: did I have any poems I suggest she read? What a delicious invitation.

This evening I pulled poetry books from the shelves and we began to read our favorites out loud. We came upon this one by Billy Collins.

Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never
even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses good-bye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a
bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Billy Collins
Sailing Alone Around the Room

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