twenty, ten, five
years, days, hours
a few seconds or a few after that, after that

things good, very good, bad, very bad

sifted through hippocampus screens
winnowed through a series of mind sieves

to let the heart of that moment
stand clear and strong,
held, filed, long-term stored
cross-referenced with other memories
stuck with flags for retrieval

then a winnowing to let really important details
stand close to the flag
      but behind and beside

smaller details, extra bits, peripheral stuff
winnowed into a jumble
picked at later
to dress up the moment
with familiar
      but sometimes ill-fitting

so the heart of the memory
the essence of the memory
colored with big details
sits patiently waiting

face, event, feeling, sound, taste, smell, moment, thought

even just a sliver of a part of the thing, a chunk of something that happened, a spotlight-lit-clear part of a dim whole

all flagged


#my very young daughter looking up at me and smiling#mom wailing in the next room when grandma died#being given a bag of candy while mom and dad went to grandma's funeral#sitting in my car at a stoplight on a warm summer night on my way home and a perfect song comes on the radio#line-fresh clothes on a summer's day#the little shining victory when the right answer fell into view#hearing that my dog had been killed#being told I had cancer#being told I didn't have cancer#making electric eye contact with my future wife across a crowded corridor#seeing a huge flock of birds play before I was to go in for an operationl#bread pudding at a restaurant in Des Moines#waves of anxiety before whatever#toddler granddaughter helping us pack to go home by carefully placing rocks in the car#long beautiful hours reading Gone with the Wind#getting the acceptance letter from college#my first time#being sucker-punched#frantically packing our stuff before the movers came#big guy barreling into me at homeplate but I held onto the ball#dad bringing home warm fresh doughnuts for lunch#not getting a card when I retired#learning to play pool at a friend's house#seeing my daughter in the rearview mirror as we pulled away on her first day at college#hearing banging on the apartment wall to let us know we had a phone call#her father coming with the cops#telling a joke that had them laughing till they cried#picking out a coffin for my father#hitting a car with a boomarang on the beach at Daytona#being almost fired at work for insubordination#seeing Simon & Garfunkel perform#my back hurting from setting pins at a bowling alley#sitting in phys ed class in the 8th grade in the basement of the Baptist church#working the FM booth at the radio station#painting over the purple room in our new house

rows of flags
rows upon rows upon rows upon rows
upon constantly growing
rows of flags

A simple hard-wired system
sending out little electrical pulse-carts
to find a flag and fetch a memory
then another, then another

at our request
in tandem with other carts
just on its own

* * *

It is a human system
and thus flawed

we do not have an inventory
we cannot choose what to place in that deep field of flags

but we can draw upon a whole box of tools
to sully the process

to splatter the flags with the mud of distraction
to hide the flags with the smoke of denial
to whip the flags with the winds of confusion
to bust the flags with the brain's own loose cannons

and the carts can come back
but not stop long enough to unload

and the carts can come back
but from the wrong flag

and the carts can come back
but with jumbled details and bits

and the carts can come back
but heaped with nasty surprises

and the carts can come back
but empty

But the carts can also come back with

the joy the anguish the beauty the pain the love the fear the sweetness the bitterness the happiness the sadness

all the dots that, connected,
show the moments in our story

Harry W. Yeatts Jr.