Are you starting to forget? If so, you’re not alone.

Dear Readers,

I’m going to show you the ultimate poem for those of you who suspect that you are becoming more forgetful that usual.

Today I bumped into a fellow luncher at a local pizzeria.  This was the second time that we talked–at our first conversation, we realized that her sister had been my Woodrow Wilson High School teacher.  I wrote a quick note to my former teacher to be given to her by her sister, my fellow luncher.

When I saw my fellow luncher for the second time, she said that her sister enjoyed my note very much, but didn’t remember me.  Well, it was ALMOST fifty years so I wasn’t insulted and as a former teacher myself, I suspect that I may have forgotten some of my students.  Anyway, don’t you think students always remember teachers?

I forget a lot, but not my teachers.

So, here’s my favorite poem about forgetfulness and let me know if your memories retire to little fishing villages where there are no phones…


 1941 Billy Collins

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
or 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” from Questions About Angels. Copyright © 1999 by Billy Collins. Reprinted with the permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: Poetry (January 1990).


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