“For Memory”

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For Memory
-Adrienne Rich

Old words: trust fidelity
Nothing new yet to take their place.
I rake leaves, clear the lawn, October grass
painfully green beneath the gold
and in this silent labor thoughts of you
start up
I hear your voice: disloyalty betrayal
stinging the wires
I stuff the old leaves into sacks
and still they fall and still
I see my work undone
One shivering rainswept afternoon
and the whole job to be done over
I can’t know what you know
unless you tell me
there are gashes in our understandings
of this world
We came together in a common
fury of direction
barely mentioning difference
(what drew our finest hairs
to fire
the deep, difficult troughs
unvoiced)
I fell through a basement railing
the first day of school and cut my forehead open–
did I ever tell you? More than forty years
and I still remember smelling my own blood
like the smell of a new schoolbook
And did you ever tell me
how your mother called you in from play
and from whom? To what? These atoms filmed by ordinary dust
that common life we each and all bent out of orbit from
to which we must return simply to say
this is where I came from
this is what I knew
The past is not a husk yet change goes on
Freedom. It isn’t once, to walk out
under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers
of light, the fields of dark–
freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.

Invented identities

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running in the fields,
forgetting the names of flowers.
maybe they are false, made up.
but better the liar you know,
better still if the liar is you.

Thinking about the way people latch onto things, traits, sometimes extremes, to forge an identity – an identifiable identity.

Sex bomb

I’ve known a few people who behave as though an overly enthusiastic interest in sex and uncontrollable sex drive confers an identity. I have often thought about how withering this is, when all actions and the entire personality is dominated by the sex drive and the drive for sex. This might seem scorching – glowing with promise and excitement – in a person who is young, experimental, but at some point it starts to be sad and macabre. It is not that older people should not be sexual (I’ve written plenty about this – there’s no age limit). But the clinging to youth that often comes with this personality trait can be humiliating for the person who clings to it too long, and eventually the “sex bomb” explodes in their face.

From Desperate Characters: “’Don’t. She doesn’t know what’s going on. I don’t tell her much. She’s like a demented Sherlock Holmes tracking down the ultimate clue. Sex is at the heart of everything, so morbid and so banal. I haven’t got anyone to talk to.’ ‘You’re talking to me.’”

Liar

When a person is abnormally obsessed with something – sure that other people are deceiving them, stealing from them, using them, cheating on them or whatever – it is often because s/he is guilty of those very same things. That is, if a person is a liar, a cheat, a thief, his paranoia that others are perpetrating those very things on him is heightened. I wonder about this. That person can also justify all of it. He may not have directly lied – he may just have misled or omitted facts. He may not think he stole when he feels he has just re-appropriated resources. Either way, he’s fooling himself and others – and has crafted his whole identity, whether he knows it or not, around this obsession.

The ache of marriage

As Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters highlighted, sometimes the ache of marriage is so slight, you barely notice it day-in and day-out … until you look at it either under a microscope or from a big-picture view, asking, “What have I done with my life?” And yet, many of us are conditioned to define ourselves and our identity through those relationships, however stale they become. Who would we be outside them?

“‘You don’t know what’s going on,’ he said at last. ‘You are out of the world, tangled in personal life. You won’t survive this…what’s happening now. People like you…stubborn and stupid and drearily enslaved by introspection while the foundation of their privilege is being blasted out from under them.’ He looked calm. He had gotten even.” -from Desperate Characters

No need to be an asshole; you’re not in Brooklyn any more

“I’m sending you this photograph of me in my new car
but I hate to say I miss you cause you don’t need me any more
you’ve politely say, “I miss you,” but we know you don’t mean that any more”

-Foxygen, “No Destruction”

And then there are hipsters who define their whole being in ways that annoy everyone else around them (other than other hipsters). They  are probably very similar to the peripheral characters Fox writes about in her book, despite pre-dating the existence of the hipster (what would these annoying characters have been called then when the book was written in 1970)?

“‘Look how late the light stays now!’ ‘The days are getting longer. I hope the locals don’t start up with their goddamn bongos.’” -from Desperate Characters