Not Forgotten

Not Forgotten

by Stephanie Lovegrove June 11, 2013

Ruminate’s Issue 28 comes out this month, with the theme of “Not Forgotten.” I love this theme and how it works on a different level than simply “Remembered,” which carries a more active implication. In some of my favorite pieces of writing, you get the sense that even the writer is surprised by what bubbles up, not actively remembered, but certainly not forgotten.

Sometimes it’s a smell that brings the full force of memory you didn’t know you retained, or sometimes simply placing your fingers on the keys of a piano will recall a song you haven’t played since you were ten. This concept is captured in the following poem by Lucia Perillo in her fantastic book, Luck Is Luck.

The Lord’s Prayer by Lucia Perillo

This is what you remember: not the words
so much as the avalanche they made being said,
how it came or not at all in one rush, one breath,
like a cart lashed to many horses. How the simple
father handed off to a chain of bewilderments
like daily bread, like hollow
and kingdom, imported for what reason
from a different kind of story, the kind with a troll
and horses that lift each foot in turn like a girl’s
bent wrist. Trespass was a sign nailed to a tree,
meaning you couldn’t go any farther, which was why
the lady squatted here to cough out her child,
a story laced inside this one
but more secret. Having to do with
where the baby came from. Having to do
with the father’s name. And long before
you saw the words written or knew much more
than that the black scratches like ants
papered everywhere in human places
were a way of making sound without sound,
the priest’s call-and-response lured you here
to the grove of this secret, the father’s
secret, which you could neither remember at first
nor stop the whoosh of its falling, once it came
in words so hard so furious in their quiet
that to this day you can’t even think
your way through them without moving your lips.


What is not forgotten is such a treasure trove, and the contributors in Issue 28 mine that resource beautifully. In this issue, Sarah Fawn Montgomery uses a scar as the trigger of powerful memories, and Andy Eaton likewise examines a visual reminder:

Scar by Sarah Fawn Montgomery

There’s a scar
on my right ankle
where I slipped
in the shower
the morning after
my grandmother died,
peeling a bit of skin
like a potato as I slid.

The flesh on the ankle
is next to none,
so the scar
takes me closer
to the bone.

If I rest my finger
in the scar
like I did then—
held it closed to clot
while I cried and cried
over that woman I loved,
that woman whose husband
drank and shouted for years
while she rouged her cheeks
and mouth, fastened jewels
to her ears, smiled—
I can feel my heartbeat
fast in my finger.


Ghostbird by Andy Eaton

So very least among its flock,
even now where is it,
the rock dove who left this trace
against my kitchen window
with a printmaker’s exactitude?
The body is gone. Here is left
only its dust in ghost, on glass,
the final misdirection toward
its own unswerving shape,
the pale surrender of one wing
tilted west, the other east,
this presence pointing out
the truth that it will go
at any touch. A breath.


Beyond the not-forgetting of death, though, this issue also contains some more unexpected ruminations on memory, as in this excerpt from Sarah Green’s “What To Expect When You Become A Traffic Light”:

And if you’re capable of daydreaming,
and just how many crashes it would cause
should you forget, stay green. And if you can
forget. If you can see at all—
what put in your head the stubbornness
to call it sight?

And then there’s the other side of “not forgetting”—the constant struggling against forgetting itself, which at times seems inevitable. Moments you never thought would lose their crisp edges begin to blur, and suddenly you’re telling someone else’s stories from a forged memory. Writers rely not just on that which is not forgotten, but on the minutiae of those remembrances. In the following poem from Given Sugar, Given Salt, Jane Hirshfield laments the struggle to hold on to myriad tidbits and to wrangle them together into a poem (also, how great is this title?):

After Attending Neither the Lecture on How Plants and Animals Self-Orient in Space nor the One on the Abrupt Decline of Frogs by Jane Hirshfield

The figure that rides behind her left shoulder is frowning--

For weeks now, you have been trying to write of
the soon-to-be-unremembered:
the scent of spirit-duplication ink, the sound of the needle
hushing over clear vinyl after the record ends.
The winding of watch stems, their sharp, tiny teeth on the thumb.

You have collected stories of iceboxes, X rays in shoe stores,
of early margarine needing its red dot of dye kneaded in.

Nothing has worked.
Consider: The bin of your metaphor-making is empty.
What care have you taken of me?

Yes, she admits, it is true.
She is like a dog at the foot of a long-empty tree.
Whatever scent brought her to this, the quarry slipped loose.

That click, click, click of the phonograph needle.
Who, years from now, will know its powerful emotion?
Better to write of the vanishing frogs,
of extinction that matters.

But that moment decades vanished--

the last notes trembling to silence,
the sound of the diamond-tipped needle repeating,
repeating its circles—

to her, it matters.


Since we’re on the topic of memory, though, I guess it can’t hurt to throw in this poem, about those things that eventually are forgotten:

Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

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.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.


What are your favorite poems on memory? Please share them in the comments, and enjoy Issue 28!

Stephanie Lovegrove
Stephanie Lovegrove


Stephanie Lovegrove had two poems featured in Ruminate's Issue #04, and was so impressed with the magazine that she volunteered to work for them. She served as Ruminate's poetry editor from 2007-2014. Since 2002, she has worked in the book business--at literary magazines, publishers, and bookstores, and as a freelance copyeditor. She holds degrees in English (with a focus on creative writing), classics, and linguistics. She currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she works in marketing for the University of Virginia Press. Her work has appeared in Gulf Coast, Cream City Review, and Poet Lore, among other journals.

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