This Thing of Memory
I was teaching my students today to write
letters, coaxing children to daydream,
to retrieve some small scrap of thought
we call memory: to let it grow into a poem,
like the big wide of a smile only littlest ones get away with, the kind
that freezes thin
on the front room still of adult faces.
Their heads bowed to their desks, eyes
forced shut by the mesmerizing drum
and roll of my voice, they walked, skipped,
spun in sun and rain and snow, watched
pictures pass beneath their lids, gathered touch
at the fingertips before, like so many other little things, they might
quickly slip away.
And I wrote with them and read to them:
of how I put white clay ducks on my grandmother's
grassy yard that summer of unparched green --
in the space where fat-headed sunflowers pressed through a patch of
slate toward sky -- and how
she told me then when once she was a girl she had real ducks, some-
where faraway in a place called Poland.
And the children read what they wrote:
a boy danced in abandon with his grandfather
across the kitchen floor, a girl held on tight
to the perfumed soft of her new mother's arms.
But when I asked one - so slight it seemed she
could be carried off by wind - why tears fell onto the page ending a
day feeding cows,
she said the word: "nothing." In my chest
the panic of a whole city of doors slammed
shut to keep out the impending dark.
At my brother's house later this afternoon,
where I went to witness the magic of a new baby born into the room,
I asked him for the ducks,
the ones whose pink eyes our own grandmother
wiped clear from dust with her apron corner.
He snapped they were long gone, and chickens anyway.
In my marvel and belief in the magical accuracy
of memory, I shuffled through the tattered
edged packet of yellowed pictures -- as if to cast
some fortune teller's proof of it, of her, of me
the ducks-and there they were: chickens.
I wonder now about this thing of memory:
how as it clouds up, we can heave it back
with an angler's veracity -- the fish story grown
too large to lift- how a small child, will reel it in
fresh, but when asked, "Why are you crying?"
as if to raise a talisman of real against the past,
postured in a distance forged by remembering,
can say, as a matter of fact, "Oh, it's nothing."
by Andrena Zawinski
Copyright 1994, The Women in Literature and Life Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN #1065-9080). Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.
Reference Citation: Zawinski, Andrena. (1994). This thing of memory. WILLA, Volume III, 18.