Struggling to Remember

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.

~Billy Collins “Forgetfulness”

It happens more often than I like to admit.

I have a name on the tip of my tongue, but it fails to form as if it has somehow faded into the mists of a morning fog, only barely discernible to me. Sometimes only the first letter remains to haunt me until the light of day finally burns off the fog and my synapses start to click again.

I actually subscribe to a daily app to exercise my memory and listening ability, including vocabulary and math skills but I realize the best exercise is actually using those brain muscles in real life like I use my arms out in the barn scooping poop every day. My brain knows when it is just a game under the pressure of a time limit vs. a high stakes situation of remembering the correct dosage of a medication in a critical clinical scenario – just like my muscles know there is a difference between a repetitive weight machine in the gym vs. pushing a heavy wheelbarrow uphill against the wind in muddy footing.

I think my brain’s memory capacity is an intricately woven web of connections that get stretched and battered over time. Each dropped connection is gone forever so I’m trying to treat it gently, hold on to and cherish the memories I never want to lose in the fog, and allow the minor forgettable stuff to float away without regrets.

After all, today will become tomorrow’s memory to store away for keeps so I need to do some serious house cleaning to make room…

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