A death of memory poem


I have been thinking about the
writing of death poems. How this 
practice can prepare one for the 
inevitable. I had intended to write
a death poem on the forty-seventh
anniversary of my birth (the beginning,
I thought, of a new annual tradition) but 
I did not. Instead, I seem to have written 
a death of memory poem, something 
that I believe I must fear even more 
than death itself at this time in my life,
though this is probably only because
I have not come close enough to 
death while the death of memory is 
a thing that I have known closely for
quite a long time. So here is my
death of memory poem. Perhaps,
by its writing, I will be made ready.

Let my poems be a hedge between
my self and the loss of my memories,
a palliative against or a salve for the 
wounds that I saw on my father’s face, 
that I now have seen on my own face, 
that same face when I look in the mirror.

My memory is gone.  It is a broken 
thing beyond fixing that will just run 
down and down over time. But maybe 
these words, these poems will give me 
something that my father never had, 
something that he never knew how 
to find on his own, something that I 
do not know that I know how to find
on my own and yet still I search and 
yearn for—a changing of the heart, 
a look in this mirror, a softening of 
the self (hard, hard thing that we
make within us, our myriad actions 
and phenomena uncountable that 
we cling to, these never-ending 
evanescent folds in the cortex 
of time, these simple tricks we 
use to try to woo security to sit 
at the table with us, to say to us
that we are we but not alone
and yet somehow still solitary…).

Perhaps I can find this thing 
for both of us, my father and
I, though he is long past finding
and I find my self searching still.

Perhaps, if my memories must leave 
me (and it seems that they will) I can 
have them replaced with poems.  
If my memories are to be dislodged,
if they are to fall to the wayside, 
I would rather have poems in their places 
than just more fears of losing more memories.

What is the self but a bag full
of memories that we cannot 
put down? Though we are
boarding a train to a place 
of no things and we stand
ultimately alone on the platform
and the bag is full of useless things
and our arms are already full of all 
the things the world has given us
that we did not want or need or ask for,
still, we cannot put it down.

I want to be able to put it all 
down. When the time comes, I 
want to be able to board that 
train with empty hands. Let me
board it with empty hands, alone.

16 thoughts on “A death of memory poem

  1. This most personal of poems speaks to all of us, reminds us why we are not here to be alone. If we go to the end alone let it be with the last thought that we were not alone on the journey. This poem, with its sadness still leaves me feeling lighter than before I read it. The final photograph is perfect.

    I would trade all but one of my memories for poems. If I can ever find my voice again I will write about that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my Johnny….I’m not losing my own memories as much as losing everything that might hold me to them. Is this different? I don’t know. But I flew like a bird reading this….. There are so many “little deaths”. The photo of your father is extraordinarily beautiful. I agree with Ron…I’m lighter for reading this….


  3. Astounding. The “What is a self but…” stanza sums it up so brilliantly, I wish it could be broadcast world-wide. Also, the self as that “hard, hard thing…” is so clear. So I guess the memories are softening, and having seen what that did to your father, it terrifies. Groping for comfort, you find poetry. I worked with many people with Alzheimer’s and dementia (or am I taking you too literally?) and the variety of responses and journeys is infinite, it seems. One woman retained her wacky, creative spirit even while her brain was disintegrating. Just having a strong creative background, may help navigate those waters. Thanks for this poem. Arrow-straight and deep.


    • Not too literally at all. This was precisely the case. It was not an easy journey for him. He was a rather austere man. A child of the depression and a veteran of two wars. So he kept a bit too much bottled up and buttoned up. I think he had a lot of unresolved anger and sadness and the Alzheimer’s robbed him of both the ability to keep them contained as well as the tools he might have used to deal with them, had he chosen to do so (which he probably would not have).

      Thank you (belatedly) for your words and your thoughts.


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