Last night we ended up on the couch trying to remember all of the friends who had died so far,
and this morning I wrote them down in alphabetical order on the flip side of a shopping list you had left on the kitchen table.
So many of them had been swept away as if by a hand from the sky, it was good to recall them, I was thinking under the cold lights of a supermarket as I guided a cart with a wobbly wheel up and down the long strident aisles.
I was on the lookout for blueberries, English muffins, linguini, heavy cream, light bulbs, apples, Canadian bacon, and whatever else was on the list, which I managed to keep grocery side up,
until I had passed through the electric doors, where I stopped to realize, as I turned the list over, that I had forgotten Terry O’Shea as well as the bananas and the bread.
It was pouring by then, spilling, as they say in Ireland, people splashing across the lot to their cars. And that is when I set out, walking slowly and precisely, a soaking-wet man bearing bags of groceries, walking as if in a procession honoring the dead.
I felt I owed this to Terry, who was such a strong painter, for almost forgetting him and to all the others who had formed a circle around him on the screen in my head.
I was walking more slowly now in the presence of the compassion the dead were extending to a comrade,
plus I was in no hurry to return to the kitchen, where I would have to tell you all about Terry and the bananas and the bread.
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 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 turn around on the gravel and go back to the house for a book, something to read at the doctor's office, and while I am inside, running the finger of inquisition along a shelf, another me that did not bother to go back to the house for a book heads out on his own, rolls down the driveway, and swings left toward town, a ghost in his ghost car, another knot in the string of time, a good three minutes ahead of me— a spacing that will now continue for the rest of my life. Sometimes I think I see him a few people in front of me on a line or getting up from a table to leave the restaurant just before I do, slipping into his coat on the way out the door. But there is no catching him, no way to slow him down and put us back in synch, unless one day he decides to go back to the house for something, but I cannot imagine for the life of me what that might be. He is out there always before me, blazing my trail, invisible scout, hound that pulls me along, shade I am doomed to follow, my perfect double, only bumped an inch into the future, and not nearly as well-versed as I in the love poems of Ovid— I who went back to the house that fateful winter morning and got the book.