Memory Verses

A Poem Journal from the Midst of a Plague

“Dead Yellow Roses #13” Expired Polaroid film, 2013. ©Steve Spehar

As we slide hesitantly into a “post-pandemic” world––and as I write it, I am not sure whether that phrase is yet fully applicable––it is self-illuminating to look back at ways in which I occupied a mental and creative space during the height of uncertainty relating to that time. This is a piece I worked on sporadically, as the need arose, over the course of 2 months during the first autumn of our…ahem…discontent.

I.

I’ve been dwelling a lot lately
on the concept of memory;
or not just memory as a concept,
but as memory itself,
as if it requires a verse to define it.

The recollection of moments
in your life
that apparently never leave you,
but recede into corners of your consciousness,
not all of them dark,
but all of them hidden.
They emerge from the shadows
when the light of a present wakeful thought
shines on them.

It is strange how I sometimes receive
these visitors
like they are children
I had helped to conceive
but then orphaned them
to becoming––their mother––in the interest of
myself.

II.

Down into the funnel of night,
or the tunnel, rather,
a tunnel of light,
warped by the serpentine twist of a scaled back,
and gulping stars and moons and neon
like the glistening of cities
in the dark from above, from afar,
a sweet invitation, delights to follow.
Yet terror and stasis,
still-life trapped in life,
still breathing but stale, conditioned air of ancients,
yesterdays, and underneath that,
the reflection of a Self,
satisfied of the ride,
familiar and still unrecognizable
carnival barker,
madman on the corner of a twilight crossroad,
slow-motion beckoning,
a gothic picture book,
but comfort, relief, nostalgia, ecstasy.
Strange tempter, scaled back
and scales, weighing the two:
balance, says the voice,
do not venture there.

But stick your head inside
for just a second.

III.

My earliest recollections––
though I cannot be sure where
they stand in line,
only that they rest calmly
in the meadow––
were terror: something in the backyard.
I peered through a bedroom window,
tiny feet standing on a chair to reach the height,
and saw eyes out there,
shining in the overgrown weeds
around a half-dug crater
that was intended to be a swimming pool
before my mother and my father
became enemies.

Now, I know those eyes
may have simply been a cat,
or a coyote, and probably
not the little demon keeping tabs on me
that I imagined, and that stayed with me
in my subconsious
until demons became irrelevant in my twenties.

But also then, joy.
Careening down the mountain side
at the end of the black
on cardboard boxes (or maybe,
the tops of garbage cans),
laughing and feeling a part,
and not apart,
in happy myopic disintegration,
a life well-cobbled together,
out of thousands of pieces,
strength where the joints are,
and marrow.

IV.

Nothing
I can remember,
or at least,
nothing I can
articulate.

Mind is a muddle.
All of those remembrances converge
like a dark mass.

Zen says
that samskara is making me
trip over the next step,
because I can’t let go
of the inability to
know where I’ve journeyed from
and to undertand why.

I have no idea who I am.

History whispers,
as it always does,
that I will land again,
but this heavy grip makes me feel
like I will be suspended here
in mid-step,
balancing on one foot
and gasping for non-breath.

Even now my eyes
are drawn to gaze
beyond the narrow gaps
of the window blinds
to the swaying silent rustle
of the trees outside.

I know the sound and the sensation
because I have it stored in
memory, though I know from experience––
and because the masters told me––
that the trees don’t make a sound,
and the past doesn’t leave a footprint,
and I will be suspended in mid-step
until my foot can release itself
into nothing.

V.

Seeking for stillness
in sitting forgetting.

A place beyond substance
and thought and experience and memory.

Chinese sages and Indian ancients
say that you must find single purpose
for attention and allow the body
to fall away
along with senses and will and discernment
to the essence of being,
to the godhead underneath,
but also above and around and
running through.

Samhadi and moksha:
total absorption and complete liberation
leading to ananda––
unutterable joy.

Yet it takes practice
and discipline and time.
Without time,
most often all I can do
is reflect on my sorrows and
my memories and
what I may have for lunch.

VI.

They arrive in flashes
that envelope you,
a song on the radio
or the smell of burning leaves
can do it.
A momentary shiver
without the shake,
a penetrating sliver
of insight that reaches like grey light
into distant grounds.

A green-black shimmer of darkness
on a seabed,
silver freckles of dust
on a forest floor,
deep into the unthinkable and not
thought about,
arriving at places familiar
but unexplored.

I remembered yesterday
a thing that happened thirty years ago,
and all of my forbidden senses
were functioning
as they do and
as they are designed
to deceive me.

The Buddha was correct
when he said to
allow yourself to slide
from the raft.

New Orleans, Sep-Nov 2020
~Steve Spehar ©2022

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Steve Spehar

Steve Spehar

Writer, photographer, actor, poet, musings on life, philosophy, travel, culture, art, politics & zen. Based in New Orleans, living in a garage by the river.