The Poetics of Never Forgetting

I forget things. I forget things quick and often, or better to say, perhaps, that I lose track of things, lose track of memories and experiences and my childhood. Sometimes I make lists. To do lists, shopping lists, don’t-forget-about-this lists. My house is strewn with old lists, lists clutter my desk. Sometimes I forget why I started the list, or whether I completed it.

Things I never forget: faces. I’ll always recognize you—at the very least, that I’ve met you or sometimes even just seen you—and most of the time I’ll be able to tell you where and when it was. Some people find this off-putting. Things I generally don’t forget: names. If I know your name, it will stick with me.

But the rest of the world, so transient to me, must be kept somewhere. I put these things in poems, things I see other people forgetting or losing track of, things that to me are critical and essential.

I wrote about the rise of the AIDS crisis because we can’t forget what it costs us. We can’t forget what was lost/taken/discarded. It’s important to me. I put it in poems. I wrote a book about my ex-boyfriend’s suicide because I didn’t want to forget him, forget how it felt to lose something I thought was already gone. I was wrong. I’m writing a book about losing other people: another man, a boy in Wyoming. I don’t want to forget how whole things once were. I think the world is a constantly winnowing place: each day you have less but remember more.

I want to remember how it felt to fall in love with him, slowly, by voice. I put it into poems. I want him to remember this too, so I share the never-forgetting.

This is all I can do. I don’t write a history, I write subjectivity. I want to recapture things and keep them close to me.

It’s a simple thing. You don’t have to do this in your poems. I don’t think this is the right way for everyone. But how easy it is, now, to remember the things that used to escape me. There they are, right there. And I’ve learned now how to live in the past and the present without losing myself.

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