We make a continuity of our lives where, in fact, none exists, just as we build interior landscapes from the details our eyes flicker across. A blaring sun bursting from dark grey clouds. The sun's after-image burned into the retinas: purple circles ringed with blue. Peach-gold clouds spilling across cobalt sky.
We stitch together song lyrics as if they explain us: Dance myself out of the room... because it's cold cold cold in my heart heart heart. I don't know where the sun beats in.
We pick and choose the details that we will remember and invent the ones we did not see clearly. A delicate watercolor wash of palest rose, blended into a violet cloud, streaking like a mountain range in the distance. Above it all, floating: rose-tinged fluffy clouds with violet contrasts. A jet's white streak, cutting across the canvas.
There's more to life than this.
According to scientists, our cells regenerate. Only because of a few permanent cells, housed in that precious fluted sphere of wrinkled gray matter, do we persist as "you" and "me."
This week, I dreamt of reconnecting with somebody I'd last seen 20-some years ago. This dream, most likely, was the result of looking through old letters, trying to find my prior addresses, in order to fill out an application for the state child-abuse clearance I need to teach a poetry workshop for teens and adults. The application also required me to list all the people I'd lived with, a laughable task during my college years. Once, I knew what these people ate for breakfast; how hot they liked their showers; who they dated; when they had overnight guests. Now, I barely recollect their faces, let alone their names.
So in this dream, I was visiting an old friend -- or at least, she seemed to think that we were old friends. But I could not remember her. Her name was Katie, plus a last name that disappeared upon waking (was it Silver? Or Wolf? Or something more ethereal?) She had long, brown hair and wore flowing skirts; she was smart and artistic. We had once been good friends -- so she told me. But if we had been, wouldn't I remember her?
Dream Katie showed me snapshots of me with my first husband. She told me that everybody had wanted things to work out for us, but she understood when I told her they hadn't. Her obvious fondness for me was touching; I wanted so much to remember. But the memories would not come.
Maybe it's only because I'm driving through crepuscular skies -- the rose light fading into muted blue-grey -- that I think I can almost remember her. I think she must symbolize somebody real; somebody I really have forgotten; somebody who was once important to me. If I could grasp the key to remembering her, the memories would all come back.
Did she wears scarves in her hair and long skirts from here to there? Did she go barefoot? Did she wear toe rings? Did she play the flute? I can't remember.
As I write this I'm on my way to see old friends. One is moving across the country to Seattle, 3,000 miles away. He is passing by just long enough to grab dinner with us before continuing his journey. We will eat sushi and swap stories about old times.
We were at the beach; everybody had matching towels.
Mnemonic devices can help us recall the fragmented experiences of our lives. I once accidentally found a practical application. While I sat in my apartment with friends, I traced the geometric shapes on my dress: a finger around a paisley, than a square, then another paisley. A jagged edge; a squiggle. Idly, I traced the lines of our conversation. The next time I wore that dress, my finger traced the same unconscious pattern. As I did, fragments of the conversation came back to me. I guess you could call that dress a conversation piece.
Sometimes memory is more like a CD that cuts in and out, because there is a loose wire.
I took a trip on a Gemini spacecraft. I thought about -- you.
With old friends, you can help stitch memories back together. To bring to life moments of our shared past, we each contribute one piece, one fragment. We reach a collective consensus. The way the mind works, this retelling helps us all remember. We remember both the original memory and the retelling of it. So that over time, our memories of the memories of the memories merge together. They become like layers of onionskin paper, each with a drawing pretty much the same, but drawn from memory and therefore perhaps a little bit different. And so our memories -- overwritten -- become both darker and less distinct.
I had a fantasy, and you made it true.
There was a time when I didn't believe in taking photographs, because I thought that if you took a picture, it became your memory. The flash might go off, and someone's pale skin is overexposed, their eyes glowing red, the background obliterated in black flatness. Perhaps, if lucky, you could remember the photo that got away -- the one that showed your friend in luminescent laughter -- but most often the flawed photo became your memory of that moment. I wanted my memories to stay beautiful.
Our day will come, if we just wait a while.
Some say scent is the surest way to evoke memory, but to me those memories are inexact. A smell of burnt cloves, mixed with patchouli, will conjure not a specific moment but that nebulous past I call "My Hippie Days."
For me, it's music. Music can bring back entire textures; the way I felt; the exact hue of light; who I was and who I wished I was with. Nothing brings it back like music.
Inspirations have I none, but to touch the flaming dove.
Dark, dark is the sky now. All lights glow: the headlights, the street lamps. Amber and red. Here's the thing that I want to say.
Love is careless in its choosing, sweeping over cross a baby. Love descends on those defenseless.
When I hear Bowie's album, Ziggy Stardust -- oh, man! -- I'm back in college, strutting across campus on a cold, cold winter day, jamming to my headphones, singing out loud without caring who listens.
Keep your electric eye on me, babe. Put your ray gun to my head. Press your space face close to mine, love. Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh, yeah.
Now, all these years later, I'm driving home from seeing friends I had in those days. I'm listening to the same songs, making new memories of the memories of the memories. And I'm stopping for milk to give to my little boy. I will share these memories with him. And he will have his memories of me telling him of my memories, just as I carry around my mother's stories of netting birds, just as I carry my dad's stories about working in a rich lady's greenhouse. These memories have become my memories, even though I only hold fragments of them. Fragments of fragments of fragments. Together, they form a beautiful, wavering whole.
That was no DJ. That was hazy cosmic jive.