As you will see from today's post, I had such a good time recently re-reading a 35-year-old collection by American poet laureate, Billy Collins, that I couldn't resist a second post (see Wednesday). Collins and I both turned 75 this year - a kind of mid-point in the progression of old age - and he often seems to be dogging my path - or I his - on that journey.
But before I get to today's poem, I am I'm going to make you wade through a story or two from me. (Or, you could just scroll down.)
Old people often reference our age-related memory slips – with or without humor - particularly, I think, in an attempt to fend off worry that forgetfulness may foretell future dementia.
I long ago stopped using the phrase “senior moment” when it happens and I've moved on now, too, to ignoring the kind of glitches that attack in the middle of a sentence, when I lose all notion of what I was trying to convey.
You see, I realized that I have always done that - forgotten the point exactly when I was explaining it. Here, however, is what has changed: when I was younger, I just kept talking, fumphing around the issue until I caught the thread again and could finish.
Nowadays, that doesn't happen or, when it does, not in time to complete my thought during that conversation. It usually hits me hours and, sometimes, a day later.
Oh well. No point in sweating dementia, I have decided, until it gets here.
In the past couple of years, I have come to see that there is an advantage to at least one kind of memory loss: TV program plots.
Okay, sometimes I watch old episodes of, for example, NCIS (especially those with Cote de Pablo) – even when I can remember them just because I happen to like the show and it's too much trouble to mine Netflix for something worth seeing.
But often as not – with NCIS as well as The Good Wife and a few others – I have no idea what the storyline is. None. Not even when I'm watching just a few weeks after the first (or second) time I saw it. Might as well be a new episode to me.
How handy is that, getting to watch favorites again as though they are new?
In the case of Billy Collins's 1991 collection, Questions About Angels, every poem was like new to me when I re-read the book this month even though I certainly read it all when it was new and several times since then.
In many instances, forgetfulness is an annoyance but it is a good thing, I have come to see, to be able to read old favorites with the same kind of surprise and pleasure as when they were new. Some kinds of forgetfulness come with their own rewards.
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 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 goodbye
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.