Ancillary to Memory

by Benjamin Winkler

I can still recite the entirety of Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.” It unknots itself from my tongue with the same cadence as shma-yisrael-adonai-elohainu or the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It’s almost as if the words themselves are not important but the act of worrying them. I used to carry a turquoise stone and a Garden State Parkway token in my pocket for the same purpose.

All of these were central to growing up in south Jersey, between the Pine Barrens and the City, but the memories bound up with this cultural flotsam are much more pleasant: I’m four or five and sitting with my mother on the beige sofa, finger pressed firmly to page, sounding out words like “quince” and “runcible.” I used to carry books with me everywhere, in the car, to school, in the red wagon my parents would pull me up the hill in to the Garden State Discovery Museum.

Lear’s was the first poem I ever loved and the first I ever memorized, but it was only later I learned to understand the words without the Jan Brett illustrations I knew. And then I wondered what it was like to sail across the ocean, or pierce my nose, or fall in love across a species.

I later stored away lines by Berryman and Bishop, but those are subject to forgetting. I have to look for them, to coax them out like the piggy-wig in the woods. I think the mysteries of memory are a lot like dream-logic: We don’t know why something is there, only that it is and could not be otherwise. We can tease it apart pacing around a living room or on a pricey analyst’s couch, but ultimately that your mind found this important is all the reason you need.


Benjamin Winkler lives and writes in Philadelphia, PA. His work has previously appeared in RHINO, The Ilanot Review, and Lockjaw Magazine. Find him online at www.benjaminwinkler.com or on Twitter at @cmdrcallowhill.