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Memory



In the end, she forgot everything

except how to play the piano.


The nurse sat her at the keyboard

and she played for all the residents

in the recreation area


but when it was time to stop,

she couldn’t remember where she was

and became afraid.


Sometimes art finds a way to preserve

the pleasures of consciousness


but more often it’s the same bars of Chopin

over and over until the mind is dust


+


is a fragment of a poem I found

in the back of my desk drawer.


Had I written it?

I must have written it because it’s about my grandmother—


+


but I don’t remember writing it.


Down the block, the high school is letting out.


I can hear the school bell chiming, chiming


and the revving of those lunatic engines

that have idled too long beneath dying oaks,


and I think of Tommy driving fast

down the backstreets of Cleveland


+


and all I can do is hold onto my seat

and close my eyes


while the music plays loud and Tommy shouts,

Fuck, yeah,


speeding past the garbage cans that line Lee Road.


+


I like to think my youth lives inside me

as memory lives inside time.


Wayne, sipping his Diet Coke

one rainy afternoon in the university parking lot,


told me poetry is a kind of memory,


is a way the soon-to-be-dead

can talk to the not-yet-born.


Just then,


+


a black chasm opened in the asphalt

and I fell into it,


down, down

toward the hot and glistening center of the earth


+


and I’ve been falling

for decades now


into memory and fire and the deep

subterranean caverns,


the steaming lakes far below the rumpled crust


+


of the slowly rotating plastic brain


at the science museum, its pink folds glowing

as it turns on its platform


while my grandmother looks at her watch,


says, kiddo, it’s time we got you back home,

time we got you back for dinner,


+


those snowy Cleveland weekend afternoons

when things were bad at home


and she drove me to the museum

to see the fossil trilobites and dinosaurs


and the model brain that glowed when I pressed the buttons

hippocampus, amygdala, prefrontal cortex,


pink and yellow lights

until dinner and the quiet remonstrances

that went with it—


+


Tommy, these days, is also dead. He drove

right out of this poem


into an embankment near Fort Bend.

Now he’s circling the moon


like glittering dust. Or so I like to think.

I want to live


+


inside my poems

like a tapeworm.


+


Anyway, this fragment I found

crushed in the back of my desk drawer:


she panicked because where was she?

Where was she?


She didn’t know, and when she looked at me,

I was no one she could recognize.


She shrugged my hand off her impossibly thin shoulder,


until the nurses soothed her

and led her to her silent room.


I never finished the poem about her

because it was too sad and none of it


was helpful to anyone.



 

KEVIN PRUFER is the author of nine books of poetry, including The Fears (Copper Canyon Press, 2023), and a novel, Sleepaway (Acre Books, 2023). He directs The Unsung Masters Series, a book series devoted to brining great but forgotten writers to new generations of readers.



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