I discovered this poem in a curious way — a clip of Bill Murray, ever cool, reading it aloud at some event somewhere. I mean to say, I clicked on it to hear Bill Murray recite a poem, because he’s always interesting in subtle ways, but came away with this incredible poem, “Forgetfulness” by Billy Collins.
Hey, I am 50. I know that’s not supposed to be a big deal nowadays, it’s the new 37! Oh please, spare me. It’s 50, don’t deny me those years, these lines on my face. And as my friend told me, while we both toiled under barbells at the YMCA, “Look at it this way. You’re more than halfway to dead.”
Murray does a fine job reading it, though the audience strikes me as too keyed to the humor — it’s Bill Murray, they are dying to laugh — and I read it more wistfully. That sense of things slipping away, my past: my future.
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,
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.