by Billy Collins
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.
I have a 30-year-old wing man (what: you don’t have a wing man? it’s the best thing!) who sometimes marvels at my inability to remember anybody. He is gregarious and outgoing, invited to everything, and so I asked him recently: “How many people do you think you meet in the course of a week? Between work and friends?”
He thought about it and came up with, “I don’t know. Twenty?”
“A-ha!” I pounced. “That’s a thousand a year and I’m about forty years older than you so I have to remember forty thousand more people so give . . . me . . . a . . . break!”
I, of course, remember only a few hundred of those 40,000 — and the rest don’t remember me, either — but the poet has a point. I’ve seen movies where not until an hour in do I remember that, oh! Wait! I’ve seen this.
As for the muses, I remember Terpsichore. Were there eight more?
And with Google — let alone Google soon to be implanted in our brains somehow — do we really need to remember the others?
(Parsimonia, not a first-team muse, I’m fairly sure, has always been mine.)
Meanwhile — though you will soon forget my name and then the book’s title and then even its gist — my thanks to all of you who went and bought it yesterday.
Mike Watts: “How great is this!”
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Amazon.com Customer Service <email@example.com>
Date: Wed, Apr 27, 2016 at 12:25 PM
Subject: Your savings from Amazon.com (order #106-7134457-038xxxx)
Greetings from Amazon.com.
You saved $2.52 with Amazon.com’s Pre-order Price Guarantee!
The price of the item(s) decreased after you ordered them, and we gave you the lowest price.
The following title(s) decreased in price:
The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need
Price on order date: $13.65
Price charged at shipping: $11.25
Lowest price before release date: $11.13
Amount to be refunded: $0.12
Total Savings: $2.52
You will receive an additional e-mail when this refund is processed.
☞ “See?” I replied. “The book’s ALREADY paying you dividends!”
Thank you, SeaBear, whoever you are.
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