Thursday, 10 November 2016

Slivers of Memory

Sky scudded its shapeless cloud; I stared up in wonder,
Alone on the cold granite stairway of my house;
The quaking earth shook in my trembling limbs.

In the night, half awake in my darkened room,
Lions roared around my bed, a raging menagerie
Beneath its narrow frame.

In a dream I saw my mother
Lean forward and, with her knees, gently close
The dresser drawer in which my clothes were folded;
She pulled the door to just a crack of light, enough
For sleep to come and hold me.

Deeper dreams fell like dust,
The sand man and his grit, sharp inside my eyes,
Forgetful, fugitive images in the black and timeless night,
The lion beside the door guarding against the tumbling stars.

Wind rising in the darkness blew underneath the door,
Rattled the linoleum; rain against the skylight
Drummed the hours and minutes gone till, in early morning,
The world lay still and breathless for the dawn.

My father and mother made me in the aftermath of strife;
Their world had changed, its ways, its weather and its light;
Theirs was a slim selection to pick a future from.

For the life of me I cannot see them as they were;
I cannot see them as they changed, their life sentences
Uttered, strung together, served or pardoned.

Did I not hold on hard enough? Was it me who let them slip away?
I cannot hear their voices nor see them now, not their faces,
No presence, no movement, only shadowy impressions persist
Like footprints in sand fading as the rising tide spills across.
No, I did not hold on or else I held on to nothing,
Remembered nothing. Nothing at all.

The past, I am told, may come back. The known and the unknown,
Old and solid in the mesh of years, may yet be reconstructed
Through the effort of remembering, repeating it and repeating it;
Repeating it until memory is born again.

But the truth of it will not distill. How do I tell true memory
From memory induced? I have only stories left, to tell and retell,
Stories and the clich├ęs I have made of them.

From my window I stare across the busy road to a red stone wall,
Beyond it, on a playing field, games I barely understand play out:
Football, cricket, and people, forever walking from there to here.

Sky and grass and the child I was once, reunite in the moment,
In a moment made from every one before, but such moments
Are indecipherable, lived and lost, merged or reimagined;
Every one an invention.
© BH, 2016

There comes a time when you think back. Everything is as you remember it. Then a conversation over a dram makes you realise you only remember what you remember… or whatever you’ve fixed in memory by remembering something over and over.

Other peoples’ memories shed a different light. There are things we omit because we have smoothed out history or didn’t get someone else’s point of view at all. 

The dram conversation was like that, two people recalling significant events from way back and finding a strange dissonance. A bit like the way printed 3D stereo images look odd and blurry when viewed without the special specs.

Experience is like a hologram, complete and three dimensional, but as time goes on, experience fragments it. I'd heard that when a hologram breaks, every fragment contains the original image still in three dimensions but in less detail. 

I looked back to my childhood and found vivid memories of my early years. I wondered if they exist so clearly because these are the ones I’ve revisited the most. When I tried to expand the memory-bubble, I had to work at it. That effort distilled into this poem.

It reminds me: whatever recollections we hold on to are only pieces of the truth.

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