Sunday, March 31, 2013

Memory and Acuity

My brother Ken, four years younger than me, has a more accurate long term memory of the events of our youth than I do. Whereas I recall the effect of the events on me in fairly vivid detail he had the more acuity for the event itself. I knew enough to know never to argue with him because he was almost always right. I had remembered, I thought, of an event I heard of in 1946. My uncle Edgie had been a prisoner of war in Stalag 8B for 3 and a half years after Dieppe. I was telling Ken's son that in prison Edgie had wagered a fellow prisoner that he could swallow a dead mouse for a dollar. I was telling Ken about this and he said, "No, you are wrong, the bet was that he could bite the mouse in half for a dollar." He did! Now neither Ken nor I have talked about this probably for 60 years but his acuity in the matter does not in any way take account of the horror I felt learning of that event and whether it was biting or swallowing is completely beside the point in my memory of my interior revulsion at the time. So far this little story has nothing elevating or useful to teach, but I have been reading Roger Lundin's book, Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief. He says," for her, (Emily) memory meant the recollection of intense experiences or encounters rather than the rituals of general commemoration. It usually involved the revival of a sensory impress." In addition, he says, "She was intrigued only by the memory of what went on within the dwelling of her conscious life." I think that may be the difference between Ken and me. He saw and remembered the details of what went on in life vividly but accurately. My recollection of the same facts that I would have heard so long ago, is completely colored by the recall of the feelings. The acuity is swept up by the memory of the feelings which are the more powerful in me. In a world of law, testimony, false memory syndrome, accusation, redemption, recall, feelings, emotion, acuity,  and recompense---Justice demands, stick with the reporter rather than the poet.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Somehow, I have probably driven the six blocks to town a thousand times, while passing the features along the way. They are as familiar to me as the details of the interior of my house, but a blur. I could walk the distance in my sleep without foundering.  Or, so I thought! I have been grounded for a while, so have been unable to drive. I have been unwell and am beginning to rehabilitate by walking. Ambling is closer to the description of my ambulant adventure. It is closer to the adventurous walking that a child in no hurry would do. What struck me with such intensity is the myriad things that I missed in driving one thousand times past them. My trail was a zigzag beside the roadway and into the grassy byways. The trail was punctuated by stop and go, periods and dashes. I saw disuse and decay, new hope and splendor. I saw trial and error, failure and success. I encountered friends and strangers, talked to some and nodded to others. It's hard not to acknowledge passers by in a small town. A fish store closed out of season, a stone sculptors studio empty from his death, a towering new apartment climbing a rock face, a rotting house buried on a waterfront slope at the end of the harbor, a band shell ready to make music, unused wharfage and rotting steps to the harbour, blocked off, and all the wild shrubs and trees and byways between them. A marina with a few winter boats and signs forbidding parking other than guests and staff, and a church inviting all to come and park. That of course is the macro, but each feature in fact, was a picture that invited one to stand there and see the micro in it all. I think I saw what a painter might see. I finally came to the town and all is familiar there because after a drive, I have always, perforce, walked around in the town.