Old people are widely accused of many things that aren't true, among them that we can't adapt to change, that we all suffer from depression, and we don't like sex anymore. All are wrong.
But the one almost universal true thing “outsiders” - those who are still young – don't malign us for is our forgetfulness, the everyday kind that is unrelated to dementia. Yet for me it is, so far, the most annoying manifestation of old age.
My short term memory started going to hell long before I began this blog ten years ago and I've been writing about it from the beginning. The subject came up again on Wednesday at lunch with a friend.
I told her that I went to the store the other day for one, just one item, apples, and came home with four others but no apples. In the past, I have failed with three or more items I didn't write down; now all it takes is one.
And those hoary old stories we all have about not recalling why we've walked into the bedroom or kitchen, I said to her? It is no longer two or three or four times a week; now it's that many times a day.
We rolled our eyes a bit to acknowledge our mutual irritation and moved on.
Whether it's old age forgetfulness or pretty much any affliction, it feels good to know we are not alone. In this case, we have an esteemed poet to speak eloquently and humorously for us.
Billy Collins is an American-born poet who has been honored as U.S. Poet Laureate, New York State Poet Laureate and in 2005, with the Mark Twain Award for Humor in Poetry.
In addition, many of you may know him from his frequent appearances over the years on Garrison Keillor's radio program, A Prairie Home Companion.
This is Collins's poetic take on Forgetfulness or you can skip to below the text to watch the video animation of his reading.
But wait: whichever you do (or don't), be sure to read the last two paragraphs of this post.
Foregetfulness by Billy Collins
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 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.
Good god, I can't escape it. After I had written most of this post, I strolled over to YouTube to see if there was a reading of it. Watching it is what reminded me that I had already posted this poem and video back in 2012.
Interesting that neither the idea to post this, nor reading the text reminded me that it is a repeat. It was the visual that triggered the memory. (And I thought I was irritated before discovering this lapse. Hmmph.)
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: When the Price of Beauty is Too Steep to Pay