Brent Gohde

Sep 21, 2019

5 min read

Healed to Pieces: Remembering and Recognizing the When of Us

Paul Celan, Basho, a funeral and a talk on quantum gravity

Where: nearby, when: always

Part 3 in a series: when, which follows who and what.

We reach when we’re young. Overly aspirational, take on what we’re not ready for. We grow older and grow and try to re-live the back then of us. They collide like today.

We wonder about the appropriate response. Then the casket’s open and the present of her becomes past tense and we remember the used-to-be before any of this of her.

The her we didn’t know wasn’t our her, only imagined and picked up in pieces given to us with second hands. The her of then is more real now. To us anyway.

There’s ourselves as well and it’s all us. Specifically me or you.

The availability heuristic says it’s easiest to remember the most recent, then fill in the more past from there. A mental shortcut we’ve learned. Remembering so much of everything is a lot.

If we remember it it’s important. Last week more important than 2009. Obviously. Apparently.

We should get points for growth. Time goes. We learn. Get better. Preferably. We wanna get better.

She had a hard time in life, went the obituary.

Went to Paul Celan. Paul Antschel. Paul Ancel, whose parents died and were killed in German concentration camps. Paul escaped. He killed himself in 1970, at 50. Suicide after escaping the Holocaust is extremely having a hard time.


marguerite, unbroken, passed

between home and chasm through

your memory.

A strange lostness was

palpably present, almost

you would have lived.

— Paul Celan

Emphasis his. The availability heuristic implies that who we are is mostly limited to recently. What have we done for us lately? We’re only as good as our last x. Incentive to keep going to learn to live to get better. Incentive to quit while you’re ahead. Or to not document any of us.

What’s the right antonym for grow? Decline. Deteriorate. Worsen. What’s the narrative arc of our lives? Our lives aren’t a narrative. Imagine understanding. They — we — are.

He said quantum mechanics is the most successful theory. Almost perfect. Shouldn’t be. At all. We don’t know why. We know the math works. Every atom should disintegrate the moment it is. On paper. This isn’t the case. In practice.

In practice we have leaves to rake. But not into the gutter. We need to put them in bags. Then set the bags next to the gutter on Fridays. Consequences if we don’t. Nobody will care that atoms of autumns shouldn’t exist. Because the atoms do. Because they do. They the nobodies who are and care.

Ask does who they were exist. Matter can’t be created nor destroyed. Nobody can create or destroy. Matter can grow and deteriorate. Everybody — we — can.

These atoms and autumns always were. They weren’t us. We’re Ships of Theseus.

We’re what we’ve done, what we did. More recent dids count for more. The less-lately deteriorates but is. We do and did and learn and grow. Do not worsen.

The title of this book [Poppy and Memory] pointed with a fine vividness to the central predicament of Celan’s poetry — the unstable and dangerous union between Paul Celan, caught early in that sensual music of the Surrealists, pure poet of the intoxicating line, and Paul Ancel, heir and hostage to the most lacerating of human memories.

— Katherine Washburn, translator of Paul Celan’s Last Poems (1986)

Is our most past-tense, least-lately any good? Are we held captive to it? We should be accountable. Be credited. Get over it. The back-then deteriorates. Ask do we grow. Get better.

We don’t recognize her now. Who’s the her in there, who’s not the her of then.

Go blind now, today:

eternity also is full of eyes -

in them

drowns what helped images down

the way they came,

in them

fades what took you out of language,

lifted you out with a gesture

which you allowed to happen like

the dance of the words made of

autumn and silk and nothingness.

— Paul Celan

The availability heuristic suggests direct causes and effects. If-then syllogisms. Probabilities and predictions. Meaning and why. We never know why. We know what. Who if we’re lucky. Where is fraught and soon.

Then when, though.

As his career continued, Celan worked to “purge his poems of readymade contexts — whether historical, traditional or explicitly religious. The late poems still abound in allusions — private, hermeneutic, esoteric — but increasingly each poem becomes and creates its own context and the context within which Celan’s other poems must be read.” — Poetry Foundation

We purge, erase through language. Recontextualize us. Through language. In weakness or strength, allude or elude.

Language is information. Memory is not information. Regret is. Time is not. Deductive reasoning is irresponsible. Maybe the middle matters. To get better.

Don’t sign your name

between worlds,


the manifold of meanings,

trust the tearstain,

learn to live.

— Paul Celan

Now we halve each nanosecond, each Planck moment. And halve again. Time deteriorates and grows. Less soon more then.

Now we travel faster than light, skipping years, the space over time. There’s always later and before, just no longer now — now there are moments between ourselves when we never were.

Only know the beginning and the end, forget the inconvenient that takes away and worsens. Then we knew only now is the only thing ever. Now we know this isn’t — that isn’t true.

The notes we don’t hear that we fill in with what’s supposed to be, should’ve been. Less for us to regret, to forget, to ignore when we don’t. Less for them to reject, to suspect, to extrapolate from.

Time heals wounds, grows enough skin over. We gain perspective. We live to get it over with. Whenever any of this even started.

This is autumn. This is when we fall between. Only think it over when we have to, after the facts.

Haiku only asks us to acknowledge seasons. We really don’t and we do have to do additional. Some times — not all, as moments are infinitely small — we do. Sometimes.

This autumn-

why am I growing old?

bird disappearing among clouds.

— Matsuo Bashō

Big in the way back-then and now and next

What we missed, though. While we were under, influences and wrong impressions when life should be and we have been. To not be that then, it’s how we learn for longer until it’s never over.

Then it’s September. Now it’s not. Grow older. Deteriorate. Don’t worsen. Don’t ask why. Want to get better.

— Paul Celan

Happy birthday, l.i.