Reflection: Fishing for memories denied

It is rare that I indulge in sharing a significant quotation simply because it speaks to the space in which I find myself but I keep returning to these words from Intimate Stranger by Breyten Breytenbach (Archipelago Books, 2009).

“Writing is fishing for memory in time. Viscous. Time black. Sometimes you see it flitting just below the surface – memory – miming time. Memory takes on the blackness of time. Memory will be time surfacing. Use word as bait. Beat the water. Beat the weird beat of baited words. Bloated. Wounds. The bleeding words like wounded boats on a black sea. Let the fleet wash up. The coast is the beginning of the sea’s wisdom. It comes with the territory.

Words have their own territory, they return home as in a song. The fish only discovers the water once it is removed from it. This land is a memotory.

But not peaceful. Memory as trigger for territory and tongue. The mind is full of bloody pieces staked out by tongue. Is there room enough? Memory killing memory.”

initmateThis book, a selection of meditations on reading and writing, was waiting for me when I returned home from the hospital just 10 days ago. I have been keeping it close and dipping in and out of it. Breytenbach is a South African poet, writer and painter but his life, his work, his vision is borderless. In this collection he offers practical advice, shares poems and reflections on the power of the word, drawing on his own experiences as well as the wisdom of a legacy of gifted writers.

Memory is the foundation of writing. One draws on experience when putting pen to paper – poetry, fiction, memoir alike. And it is memory that is weighing me down, threatening to drag me beneath the surface; a memory that haunts and obsesses me because although it involves me, I will never access it.

I have lost a space in time. Like a bruise it bleeds beyond the boundary of the injury, reaching backward and forward from the instant a clot in my lung threatened to stop my heart. Days are absolutely gone, the day or two before the incident, the day or so in ICU and the first days after waking. But I can’t let the blackness go. I cannot let it wash out to sea. I want to hold the moments, hours, days in my hands but I cannot. They do not belong to me. They are about me. They will never be mine.

I have read my discharge summary until I know it inside out. I have pestered my anxious son with questions. What was it like to find me in distress? How did you get to the hospital? How did you feel? Stupid questions. I am struck with shocked disquiet to realize that my family did not know if I would survive.

If I had not survived the blackness would be complete. Viscous. Time black. Inanimate from my perspective. My own memories lost. The sole distorted possession of those who knew me, no longer mine.

Sands are shifting. I have some fishing to attend to before the next high tide.

Indian Ocean, Eastern Cape, South Africa Copyright JM Schreiber 2015
Indian Ocean, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Copyright JM Schreiber 2015

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

13 thoughts on “Reflection: Fishing for memories denied”

  1. I don’t know whose words are more moving, yours or Breyten’s. You have touched on something I had not even considered before. Lost time. I am reminded of being under anaesthetic. That oblivion. Yet there was a part of me that welcomed it. The removal of consciousness that never happens in sleep. Keep writing. You have a gift.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Penny. The hardest thing is trying to reconcile how my family must have been feeling before I even knew that anything had gone wrong. Tonight my daughter was telling me how many days they all spent at the hospital and how the most difficult part was when I started to come around because there was a real concern about brain damage. It is all quite overwhelming for me to think about.

      It is however, a most curious coincidence that I ordered this book just before this happened. While visiting my friend in South Africa I had the chance to listen to recordings of Breytenbach’s spoken word performances and was captivated by his voice, in both English and Afrikaans. This particular book holds so much wisdom.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How wonderful that your children were there with you in your oblivion. By the way, my Scottish friend, Ken, who lives in Victoria has been in Calgary for the last few weeks lecturing to post-grads. He is really enjoying it and is posting quite a bit about his experiences. Interesting for me to think the two of you are currently inhabiting the same geographic a space.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful quote. I am not surprised to learn the author is a poet because it reads very much like poetry.

    Regarding your lost time. my husband was in a car accident in 2003, concussion, broken hip, and they thought a neck fracture but they were wrong about that one thank goodness. Anyway, the accident happened on his way home from work. He remembers leaving work and then has nothing but a big blank for about three or four days and even after that his recall is patchy for a couple more days. It bothered him a lot for a long time and he asked me questions like you are asking your son. He’s mostly made peace with the missing time now but every once in awhile he will ask me about it.

    Liked by 1 person

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