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,

not 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.

 — Billy Collins

One thought on “Forgetfulness

  1. Hi Eliot,

    I thought you might like this.

    My best,

    I took notes at a reading of Billy’s in Berkeley in 2005. This was his lead-in to “Forgetfulness”:

    And the poem about forgetting begins with a species of forgetting that I’ve heard called literary amnesia. That just means you’ve forgotten everything you’ve read pretty much. Or you’re forgetting as you read, something else is going while you read. I think when I read a new book these days I can feel another book kind of being pushed off the shelf. There’s only so much space there. The title of the poem is “FORGETFULNESS.”


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