Open the book of tales you knew by heart,
begin driving the old roads again,
repeating the old sentences, which have changed
minutely from the wordings you remembered.
From here on instinct is uncompromised and clear:
the tales come crowding like the Kalevala
longing to burst from the tongue. Under the trees
of the backroad you rumor the dark
with houses, sheds, the long barn
moored like a barge on the hillside.
Chapter and verse. A mailbox. A dooryard.
A drink of springwater from the kitchen tap.
An old bed, old wallpaper. Falling to sleep like a child
in the heart of the story.
Reopen the book ...
I have watched
films from a Pathe camera, a picnic
in sepia. I have seen my mother
tossing an acorn into the air;
my grandfather, alone in the heart of his family;
my father, young, dark, theatrical;
myself, a six-month child.
Watching the dead we see them living
their moments, they were at play, nobody thought
they would be watched so...
Such details get bunched, packed, stored
in these cellar-holes of memory
so little is needed
to call on the power, though you can't name its name:
It has its ways of coming back:
a truck going into gear on the crown of the road
the white-throat sparrow's notes
the moon in her fullness standing
right over the concrete steps the way
she stood the night they landed there.
nothing has changed, and everything.
The scratched and treasured photograph Richard showed me
taken in '29, the year I was born:
it's the same road I saw
strewn with the Perseids one August night,
looking older, steeper than now
and rougher, yet I knew it. Time's
power, the only just power--would you
give it away?
(These are excerpts from a much longer poem. Of "Living Memory," Rich writes: "I hope that the poem speaks for itself." It speaks to me, of change--how in photographs, in memory, "nothing has changed, and everything." The whole poem is too long to post--look it up!)