Note: I am going to be trying for the next few weeks to figure out how this format works. In this newsletter, I'm offering three things. First, a reading of a poem. Close attention to a few intricately woven words. Then, a prompt for those of you who want to get more out of your time here. Finally, one or two links to things which may interest you in different ways.
Yi Lei, “Postperpetual”
They can be jewels, keepsakes, talismans.
Small poems, forged within deep disappointment or pain, carry power. I dare not skip past lines such as “When life ends, / Memory endures.” A moment’s reflection reveals the tears, the shattering, when that is said.
Postperpetual (h/t Maya C. Popa) Yi Lei (trans. Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi) When life ends, Memory endures. When memory ends, What persists Attests to the spirit.
The last three lines I find myself completely fascinated with. “When memory ends, / What persists / Attests to the spirit” speaks to the struggle and humanity in dealing with Alzheimer’s. This is an incredible achievement.
I wonder if the poem speaks to more general themes, also. It invokes the end of life, of faith confronting unbearable grief. That alone can narrow what is said.
“When memory ends,” taken by itself, is more general. I forget on an everyday basis. There are degrees of shock associated with this.
I recall classes I fawned over in high school which were completely forgotten during college. I had memorized names of rivers and mountains, the strategies of generals. None of this was used, and it faded away.
In college, papers I spent weeks preparing for were forgotten in a matter of months.
On a more serious note, I’ve forgotten good friends. Crushes and lovers. Even the departed.
What I believe has changed. What I thought indispensable, what could not be lived without, has been lost.
I wish I could say this is the result of moral failing. But in large part, memory goes away as life goes on. This is life, that one’s mind is affected by happenstance to a larger degree than one would like to admit.
“When life ends / Memory endures” is a moral commitment stemming from a fact too raw to admit as real. It is hard to believe there might be worse facts. That memory ends completely for some, leaving only the persistence of spirit.
The observation that our lives involve an absurd degree of forgetfulness “attests to the spirit” in another way. A few things we really want to remember, and we turn our life itself into the reminder we need.
Again, I can’t thank you enough for reading. I realize I say weighty things that take time to process. This doesn’t always help productivity, not even for those who want to create.
Yi Lei’s beautiful poem pushes us to remember how those we’ve lost have changed us. Mentors I’ve had, who are now deceased, focused on listening and taking life slowly. Those are lessons I still hope to make mine.
If you have related stories to share, I’m happy to listen. ashok DOT raj DOT karra at gmail.com.
- these excerpts from President Grant's memoirs are making the rounds on Twitter (h/t Matt Glassman). The writing is powerful and subtle.
- Many hate on the media, but here's an interview with Brandy Zadrozny from a little while ago that might occupy your mind for the next few months. True awarenesss of the sheer scale of conspiracy and misinformation in our time takes incredible courage and diligence.