A Memoir [essay] by Gene Berson

A pattern of dingy beige brown and green linoleum, cold heater grate screening a draft from dense black rectangles, which lead to “under the house”; my father, high above me, the ceiling light reflected in his glasses, arguing defensively with my mother who was exclaiming: “Rats! Rats! You moved me to a house with rats!?” I noticed how his teeth angled backwards a bit. The two people were very high and I had lost my stuffed rabbit and from their comments, my awakening terror, feelings and awareness of the cool blackness from under the house, as if sensing a draft from space, my consciousness coalesced into insight: the rats had gotten my rabbit and he was under the house, probably being eaten. I looked up at my mother; suddenly I felt separated from her, elated, in fact, free. They of course were stressed from the move, it being my father’s effort to get away from his parents, to establish his own life. I used to visit this memory to recover that feeling of freedom but now it is merely a memory of that feeling, or maybe just an idea. Years later, looking into the herringbone puddles made from frozen jeep tracks on the road out of To Ko Ri, reflecting the moon, I felt a similar release. I realized that no one back home knew where I was, that I was halfway around the globe. Again, I felt free. But free of what? The me others thought I was? Of a mutual timeline I despised?

Somewhere I read that once we retrieve a memory it changes; the retrieval itself corrupts the file, so to speak. Obviously it is itself merely a semblance but a semblance that holds something, a feeling or apprehension of not only the real world outside ourselves but the blank screen of ourselves that it was imprinted on. That transparency, blank and alive, is what a memoir must illuminate. So one goes back to the first memory, hoping to get closer to the uncorrupted source, only to be immediately shot forward sixteen years into the future, as if you were a message in one of those old leather cups popped into vacuum tubes that shot around my grandfather’s department store in the city. They had a certain sound, a sound now gone, violent yet softened by the leather, sucked with a comforting rattling once on their way, miniature shuttles into vacuous space in search of intelligent life. It seems that the sound is important, as if it were the trace or track or what was left of the age that produced them and is now gone. How long did it take for that mechanical technology to be superseded, one of its remembered sounds now capable of producing almost a nostalgia? Less than a hundred years. So it is a memory file that connects those who remember it and must, like a sheaf of papyrus containing ancient script, be the social equivalent of my self upon which was imprinted the memory of my lost rabbit.

So this memoir isn’t that of a famous man, or an infamous man, not even of a man at all but a record of tracks each one of which is an inkling of tremendous importance, threatening at times, like mountain after mountain overcome by a diligent hiker, to resolve in monotonous meaninglessness. Yet it is nothing of the sort. It is meaning itself, it is passion, each a link, a promise, an urge, personally and socially and, who knows, even planetarily, to go on. So there’s the irony for you: you slog along, following the metaphor of the hiker for a moment, coming to the pitiless feeling that, despite wonders at every hand, it is a relentless slog to nowhere. But the tracks, once come upon in the depth of memory, come up at you with mysterious promise: who has passed, when, what urges dreams terrors had they conveyed, which previous selves? But then each one, once retrieved, once more seen and pondered over, is changed, so that the heat of the paw or foot is gone, the trail is cold, and the detective of the soul is once again without a lead. What strategy then? To simply concentrate on the tracks, hard, and discipline their sensuality by accurate description enfolded in wild imagination? Imagination and memory, there’s a key, the detail, the resonance. Who’s in control? The boy with the lost rabbit? The boy freed from his mother? The boy, small, in a world of those who are tall, somehow able to allow his eyes to move along the sill, to hear the old-fashioned blinds knock against the wooden frame, the boy who discerns the pattern of a man fishing in the plaster, the boy who orchestrates sounds around him into a protective web: he begins to take control, to betray the world by his presence.

 

Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[Refer: This essay refers to Bermard Cooper’s poem “A Toast to the Cook” because of its wonderfully sensuous imagery.]

More of Gene Berson’s work may be read at Abalone Moon and Jewel Trance. He grew up in the bay area lives in the Sierra Foothills. Some of his publications include Honey Dew (Taurean Horn press), Beatitude, American Poetry Review.

Image by Daria Lvovsky