Friday Night Poetry

As I was walking by my bookshelf the other day, I noticed a book whose title looked interesting and whose author I may have heard of, but wasn’t sure.

I removed the book, read its title and turned at once to the inside back cover.

There I saw a set of numbers that I recognized as the pages where I had noted a passage or two.

But lo and behold, I had no recollection of the book, its author, story, or the slightest thing about it.

And then I recalled a poem by Billy Collins, an author I know, about an experience that is equally familiar to me.

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.

See Collins live performance at a recent TED conference: