Poetry Friday: Forgetfulness

h1 March 28th, 2008 by jules

Jules here. My turn for Poetry Friday was last week, but Eisha graciously helped me out and posted instead, ’cause I was having a busy week. And she was going to post this week, too, since I’m travelling for work as you read this (which means I won’t be able to respond to comments, should there be any, as I’ll be company meeting’ing all day in Boston). However, I went ahead and typed my Poetry Friday entry early, as I was inspired by something — and so that Eisha could get a Poetry Friday break, too.

I talked to my mother today (Tuesday, as I type this), and she was telling me the state of my grandmother, Grace, who is in a nursing home near where my parents live. They visit Mom-Mom just about every day, and my mother told me that she sleeps more and more and seems to be getting smaller. She’ll be 97 this year, so this is not a surprise. She’s most certainly nearing the end of her long life, and her memory went several years ago. She might be able to tell you the name of the road she lived on when she was eleven, but I’ll walk in the room and she won’t recognize me or my daughters.

Anyway, what my mother told me today is that my grandmother is sleeping in the fetal position more and more and that the nursing home staff says this is normal for people nearing the end. I found that strangely beautiful. It made me cry — and not so much ’cause she may very well be nearing the end of her life. She’s lived a long one, and it may be her time. But I found that idea and that image so poignant and striking. There’s the whole we-become-more-dependent-as-we-get-older phenomenon, needing our very grown children, whose diapers we changed, to change our own. But I’d never heard that older people sleep in the fetal position toward the end of their lives, as if returning to the womb (the beautiful circle-of-life curiosity, but I promise I won’t break into a Disney or Land Before Time song on you here).

And the whole thing reminded me of a Billy Collins poem that I love — “Forgetfulness,” which originally appeared in the January 1990 issue of Poetry and also appeared in Questions About Angels. It also reminds me that there are perhaps one skerjillion other lovely, incisive poems out there about such subject matters — forgetfulness, old age, our literal and figurative curling-up-into-oneself at the end of our lives. There’s so much more poetry to read in this world.

But, for now, here is Billy Collins’ take on memory:

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.

The rest can be read here at The Poetry Foundation’s site. Happy Poetry Friday to one and all. The round-up will be at Cuentesitos today.

11 comments to “Poetry Friday: Forgetfulness”

  1. Oh, Jules.
    If it is, in fact, her time, may she pass as peacefully as a baby sleeping.

  2. Jules, I’ve never connected Collins’s poem quiet this way. Thank you. Always, always, always, I appreciate and admire your insights.

    I’ve been reading quite a bit of Jane Kenyon (_Otherwise: New and Selected Poems_, 1996). As I was reading your post, I thought of this poem from p. 13–“In the Nursing Home”:

    She is like a horse grazing
    a hill pasture that someone makes
    smaller by coming every night
    to pull the fences in and in.

    She has stopped running wide loops,
    stopped even the tight circles.
    She drops her head to feed; grass
    is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.

    Master, come with your light
    halter. Come and bring her in.

  3. Great poem. The cycle of life is sad and beautiful. And your grandmother’s name is Grace? Perfect.

  4. Oh, that poem always hits the right notes, whenever I encounter it. I don’t forget it, exactly–it’s just that it seems fresh each time. And your Mom-Mom sounds like the picture of grace.

  5. How sweet and sad. Lovely post and lovely Collins poem. That Kenyon poem in the comments is fabulous too! thanks you for making the effort to share poetry with us today. Have a great weekend.

  6. There is a beauty and a peacefulness in what you shared. And Shannon’s poem by Jane Kenyon is gorgeous as well. Hugs to you and your family.

  7. That’s lovely, Jules.

  8. You’ve added a new depth to my reading of this poem. Thank you for sharing this Grace.

  9. Oh, my. I am in tears a bit, having said goodbye to all four of my grandparents within the last few years. I love Billy Collins so much for his humanness and now I love this poem even more than I did before…
    Thinking of you and your Mom-Mom…

  10. Thanks, everyone, and Shannon, that’s really beautiful.

  11. ((vibes))

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