cristin o’keefe aptowicz
This is an excerpt from the BBC documentary ‘Man without a Memory’ about Clive Wearing. A man with near global amnesia. He is unable to create new memories and can only remember about the past thirty seconds. He has also forgotten the great majority of his life, with the exception of his wife, Deborah Wearing.
This is beautifully romantic. Each time he see’s his wife, he greets her as if it’s the first time he’s seen her in years, even if she’s just walked to the kitchen. Because for him it is the first time he’s seen her. They have a wonderful and tragic relationship.
remember we said we were gonna live forever
and we would paint over the writing on the wall
chase that sunset till we’re blind,
and wake up to find
we are only human after all,
we are only human after all.
You will be out with friends
when the news of her existence
will be accidentally spilled all over
your bar stool. Respond calmly
as if it was only a change in weather,
a punch line you saw coming.
After your fourth shot of cheap liquor,
leave the image of him kissing another woman
in the toilet.
In the morning, her name will be
in every headline: car crash, robbery, flood.
When he calls you, ignore the hundreds of ropes
untangling themselves in your stomach.
You are the best friend again. He invites
you over for dinner and you say yes
too easily. Remind yourself this isn’t special,
it’s only dinner, everyone has to eat.
When he greets you at the door, do not think
for one second you are the reason
he wore cologne tonight.
In his kitchen, he will hand-feed you
a piece of red pepper. His laugh
will be low and warm and it will make you
feel like candlelight. Do not think this is special.
Do not count on your fingers the number
of freckles you could kiss too easily.
Try to think of pilot lights and olive oil,
not everything you have every loved about him,
or it will suddenly feel boiling and possible
and so close. You will find her bobby pins
laying innocently on his bathroom sink.
Her bobby pins. They look like the wiry legs
of spiders, splinters of her undressing
in his bed. Do not say anything.
Think of stealing them, wearing them
home in your hair. When he hugs you goodbye,
let him kiss you on the forehead.
Settle for target practice.
At home, you will picture her across town
pressing her fingers into his back
like wet cement. You will wonder
if she looks like you, if you are two bedrooms
in the same house. Did he fall for her features
like rearranged furniture? When he kisses her,
does she taste like wet paint?
You will want to call him.
You will go as far as holding the phone
in your hand, imagine telling him
unimaginable things like you are always
ticking inside of me and I dream of you
more often than I don’t.
My body is a dead language
and you pronounce
each word perfectly.
Do not call him.”
Fall asleep to the hum of the VCR.
She must make him happy.
She must be
She must be his favorite place in Minneapolis.
You are a souvenir shop, where he goes
to remember how much people miss him
when he is gone.
If I didn’t think it’d make me appear crazy still,
I’d apologize to you for having been so crazy then.
Reading the poems I had written about “us”
resurrected all that nervous heat, reminded me
of the insistent stutter of my longing,
how I could never just lay it out there for you.
The answer, clearly, would have been
no, thank you. But perhaps that tough line
would have been enough to salvage all
that was good and woolly about us: your laugh,
that golden ring I’d always stretch a story for;
the pair of mittens we’d split in the cold
so we’d each have a hand to gesture with;
how even now, the paths we took are filled
with starry wonder and all that bright limitless air.
I’m sorry I could never see myself
out of the twitching fever of my heartache,
that I traded everything we had for something
that never ended up being. But if I could take
any of it back, it wouldn’t be the glittering hope
I stuck in the amber of your eyes, nor would
it be the sweet eager of our conversations.
No, it would be that last stony path to nothing,
when we both gave up without telling the other.
How silence arrived like a returned valentine”
that morning we finally taught our phones not to ring.