Amnesia Poem

“The earth hath bubbles, as the water has,
And these are of them. Whither are they vanish’d?
Into the air; and what seem’d corporal melted
As breath into the wind. Would they had stay’d!”
Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 1, Scene III.

Electricity, air, eyes, the heart, love —
all those things you take for granted
and don’t even notice until they fail.
Invisibility is a kind of trust, you know.
The act of remembrance is such a default —
we are entirely unaware
of its physical sensations, the body-feel
of remembering. Swift as skiing
down a mountainside on a sunny day;
familiar as coming home at the end
of a busy day, distracted with musing —
a path you know and will follow
even with inattention. Around a sharp bend
there was a rockslide. Before you notice,
there is no path beneath your skis,
you are suspended in midair
and there is no other side to this gap.
You are falling even before you panic.

Lucky you! That mental bungee cord
snaps you hard back against the wall
of the memories that have not eroded.
Here’s the way it works: find the gap, and snap,
even as your heart starts its battering ram
against your ribs, and your lungs suck air
as if the fast wind of your fall
is pulling the very breath right out of you.

No one around you sees that you
are suffocating. You don’t know it,
but you are standing perfectly still,
not cascading brokenly down a cliff.
You don’t know it, but you are leaning
against the nearest wall, clutching
a nearby chair or table edge — anything
solid — with a white-knuckled grip.
You hear the wind whistling past your ears
at high speed for hours, but really
it is only a few seconds before you
breathe, before your eyes focus
on those around you, smiling and saying,
“Sorry about that. Dizzy spell. Where were we?”

Boiling cranberries for sauce, they pop
and gurgle, but more and more slowly. Or soup,
really stew, hearty and thick, the bubbles
barely reaching the surface and not so much
popping as stretching slowly flatter and
flatter, thin and distorted, until they blend
into the surface tension without truly
disturbing it. Or a deep mud puddle after
a child in frantic almost-happiness
has a seizure of stomping, then stops, suddenly,
with a wild-eyed rictus of pleasure, frozen
feeling the bubbles tickle up their arch and ankles
until they reach the surface and pop, or not,
subsiding once again into the gummy depths. This
setting the child off again into another fit
of puddling, smashing all the bubbles down.
Or hives swelling minisculely up under the skin,
itching faintly and then furiously, but still
distantly enough that surprise is the result of
a distracted scratch that brings away blood.
The brain has bubbles, as the water has,
but slow enough to glide, and push away.

– PF Anderson, October-November 2006


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