by Tim Gilmore, 9/28/2022
Strange what times of the day and night memory comes! Sometimes I try to listen for the right zones of mind. They arrive subtly, deftly.
The listening reminds of me of a strange Victorian ghost story, “The Beckoning Fair One,” by Oliver Onions. (The last name rhymes with “lions.”) The narrator can only witness the story’s ghost when, through patient and receptive stillness and deep listening, he becomes so sensitive to the dilapidated house he rents that he can hear each creak and settling of old wood in far corners.
This morning I’m awake before the sun, waiting for the staunch rains we’ll get later in the day from the remnants of the downstate hurricane. Even the traffic on Park Street seems quiet. The world seems attuned, the earth beneath and behind the world so much stronger and calmer and patient than the world. After all, the earth was here long before the world we’ve created upon it.
It’s cool outside. Even the mosquitoes have fallen back. The trees seem dreaming. Trees so always seem sentient. The cacophony of our world is oblivious to the trees through its ignorance, and ignorance is a choice; ignorance is to ignore. But the trees are oblivious to the cacophony of our world because it cannot touch their elegance and grandeur. The trees float above cheap human melodrama. The trees are the real world.
So at least I understand in this dark early morning zone of mind. I hear branches up in the camphors that strain together in the wind and creak like old doors turning on their hinges. The creakings carry upward intonations, like questions.
It’s in this frame of mind that my earliest memories seem to come. I can feel the goldenrod of the soft waxed linoleum floor beneath my hands. Outside the sliding glass doors a row of hedges forms a wall of privacy. My father calls on his lunch break every day. My mother hands me the yellow Bakelite rotary-dial phone and I hear my father’s voice. We make animals sounds back and forth – a rooster, a cow, a dog, a bird, maybe a horse. A horse is a harder sound to make and to interpret. A pig. I’m three or four years old.
My earliest memories differ from time to time. Maybe 15 years ago I wrote a poem about the earliest dream I could remember. I can see the dream. Tall buildings surround me. It’s dark. Out of the sky a torn piece of paper slips down to me. I try to read it, but it’s sucked beneath the buildings. I wonder how different my memory of the dream is now than it was as I remembered and represented it in the poem I wrote. I think I’ve always thought that I’m still trying to read what’s on that slip of paper.
Right now, this memory, of my father and I making animal sounds on the telephone, seems my earliest. It feels preconscious. Perhaps it comes from closest to the dawn of the development of my consciousness. It feels truer for its preconsciousness, like a pure me, and thus better me, with whom I long to reestablish contact, or even to connect with for the first time.
Comes now into this early morning the birdsong and brings with it the first dim light. My realm of mind changes too. I and the world enter the gloaming of the earth. In this earth I trust and gather strength. The world is new, but the earth that gave all life life is so old that, to my flimsy understanding, it might as well be eternal. Every part of being comes from the earth and returns to the earth and that knowledge allows me peace, lets me breathe.
And I wonder what my daughters’ earliest memories will be at various times in their lives. Strange that I remember them from the beginning. I knew them before they knew themselves. But because they know themselves, which means they know themselves from inside, they know themselves as I can never know them.
And that’s their autonomous space, which exists at a distance I have to respect. That means they’re my daughters but also not my daughters. They are their own selves. When they succeed, I can never be so foolish as to congratulate myself. When they fail, if they amend that failure to make wisdom, they’ve never failed. I stand apart from them and look on them with awe.
A hurricane comes ashore 300 miles southwest. Here the rain has not yet come. The gloaming continues to lighten until the lightening (not the lightning – the central “e” is everything) becomes a brightening. Where will the birds go when the winds come? They know what to do, but I don’t think they know that they know.
It’s that kind of knowing I’m trying to recall. When we’re too young and too small to think about what we know, to double in that way, to become both I and myself, isn’t everything more pure? More true? More beautiful? Isn’t that the state to which I long to belong? Isn’t that what becomes mythologized as the dawn of the world, the Garden of Eden?
For what I’m trying to do, it occurs to me now, is to remember my existence before there was remembering. That’s the return to the womb. Nirvana. The state of being outside metempsychosis. I’m yearning to experience the state of being outside of experience. That’s what the pre-dawn sifting into earliest memories feels like. It’s all the dreams I can never remember.
Birdsong changes everything. It’s active. It contains some level of awareness, intention. I wonder if birdsong could ever be considered art. Without being inside the existence of the bird, there’s no way to know. I’m content in that.
Sunrise is my daughters. When I see their faces, hear their voices, when they walk into a room, sunlight washes through and across my brain. I breathe differently. I know newly. Though it always comforts me to know that the earth is different from the world, that the earth was here before we created the world and contains the world and that even when the world ends, the earth grows anciently new, my daughters show me there’s also beauty in the world itself. The world contains their smiles, the looks in their eyes, their laughter, their love for what they love that makes them who they are.
And now, daybreak. What a strangely peaceful violent word! The day has broken. Like an egg. The day breaks into itself. I’m fully consciously conscious and selved into selves now. It’s time for a cup of coffee. It’s time to get to work.