Green Hills Literary Lantern

The Memory



And when they are out walking--if you can call

his shuffle-shuffle-step-step walking--

through the woods--if this suburban landscape

can be called a woods--surrounding what should be

the calm haven of his assisted living space,

and she mentions her uncle John--

her father’s older brother, how much fun

they’d had before he died--What!

her father says, stopping stock-still in his tracks.

John died?  Why did no one tell him?

The panic and the anguish, ragged on his face,

like a torn scrap of paper, dropped haphazard.

And Dad, she says, you remember.

John died years ago, you remember

And no, he says, no one ever told him! 

And he’s in tears, beside himself with grief,

and then beside his only daughter

who supports him, helps him home.


And she’s telling this years later as

a dinner conversation, her father long dead,

and no one need tell her that.  And we

shake our heads, laughing at the sadness of it all--

never to know the punch line, to have

the rug pulled out time after time,

every dead husk of loss fresh tomorrow. 

And must it come to this?  The poor man with

no memory we hope never to become?

The shuffle-shuffle-step-step of our walking?

You think forgetfulness a blessing, memory

a curse?  It’s no bliss to start each day anew

without the baggage of the past that weighs

us down, the familiar old belongings that

we carry from place to place—

as if no one had ever told us, as if

we’re always hearing the terrible story

for the unbearable first time.


Ronald Wallace's most recent books are Long for this World: New and Selected Poems (Pittsburgh, 2003) and Now You See It (Parallel Press, 2005).  He co-directs the creative writing program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and serves as poetry editor for the University of Wisconsin Press.  He divides his time between Madison and a forty-acre farm in Bear Valley, Wisconsin.