Total recall

  • Posted on April 28, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Is it a blessing or a curse? I’m really bad at dates, maybe even at putting things in sequence. But I remember scenes, what was said, feelings, details, places. It’s the way my brain is wired. I may forget your birthday but not something you said or did. I don’t bear grudges though, or remember things that leave me angry; they are detached memories. You may have really upset me, and I will recall that, but it isn’t what I feel or think now.

It doesn’t make my memory perfect, and sadly it wasn’t ‘photographic’ for exams! I think it’s because I rethink and process things that mean something to me. That’s how I learned Greek vocabulary on the bus as a student: repeat and contextualise. But I was writing a poem this week out of a thought that tied together photographs, children and memories. As one does …

Photographs are taken to capture something meaningful, and that’s why we keep them. They bring back memories of more than that fraction of a second.

Children, even when fully adult, contain within them the memory of their conception, birth, nurture and release. This is why your own children are so different from anyone else’s.

Memories, are like both mental children, given birth – nurtured and matured, and also like photographs – captures of a story and a reminder of many other things.

All three are joined, in light and dark, happiness and sadness, continuation and closure.


My sister and I remember family photo albums, mounted with corners on black paper, some titled in white pencil, with grained-board covers and silk tassels to bind them. They were valuable enough to be kept in polythene bags, but not so valuable that our Mum threw them out years ago. I wonder what memories she didn’t want to keep or bequeath? There are no other pictures of our childhood. That was some time ago, and now she has still to meet her un-remembered daughter for the first time whom she has only seen in a photograph.

This week I tried to be helpful in preparing for divorce by drawing up a list of worldly goods, including my family photo albums. I suggested I had the negatives, in case I change my mind (it’s OK, there’s no blackmail in mind!) about saying my wife can have them all. They represent happy times and togetherness, before I lost my family to rejection. To me, they are pictures of contingent love, and that hurts. I have children, and I don’t even know where one of them lives. I have memories, but they are detached from my emotions now. They are reconceptualised, like Copernicus’ skies.


Nothing reminds you so much of your past, where you were, what it was like, or of your past aspirations and hopes. They sometimes brought directness and honesty into your life with their naivety, they made you laugh and drove you up the wall – only to dissolve it by lying on the floor and enacting ‘driving up the wall’. Yes, there is a photo …

Children capture your past and keep it, and remind you as they repeat your mistakes, bring new challenges and question everything you thought you remembered. They are yours, but also someone else’s, so inevitably they join other things together.


As unreliable as children, and as uncertain as a photo with no caption on the back or sequence in the album, memories are changeable, but often all we have. The most vivid are moments with meaning: developing love, profound emotions, the birth of children, achievement after struggle, moments of emotional risk, times when you suddenly realised things were not as you thought. Difficult conversations and lost friendships. The last time your daughter gave you a hug.

Memories could have a whole blog to themselves, possessive as they are, sometimes demanding as children, and imprinted through exposure to light and dark.

The poem

And so I wrote the poem, left it to marinate, and came back to stir it up and lay it out very differently and visually. This is something that ‘happened’ to a poem I wrote on suicidal feelings, and which made it really suddenly a lot more powerful, where the placing and spreading added as much as the words when read across the page. If you appreciate good poetry you may understand this, but basically I am saying you can read this in several ways. First, as unbroken lines like any other poem, but then in vertical or horizontal fragments, which may not be wholly grammatical, but as fragments they still have sense and meaning. It’s slightly holographic – and not very amenable simply to reading as performance! This one isn’t as complex as that, but read it across first, then try bits down, or at random.

Here is Recall as it stands at the moment (never say poem is really finished).


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