Yesterday I was rummaging around in my study and came across a note for an essay I planned to write but never did. The note is undated but I know it was made twenty years ago and refers to a time nearly ten years before that. Thus there’s ample room for memory to play a few tricks. Here’s what the note says.
One Halloween, Eric Paul Shaffer gave a poetry reading in the Davis City Cemetery. It was not the sort of thing that the local police considered acceptable but it was a good reading nonetheless. One poem in particular—the finale, in fact—caught the audience’s imagination. It consisted of just two lines, which Eric delivered with his usual panache: “Poems decompose, / That’s the way it goes!”
But he didn’t stop there. He kept repeating the lines, over and over. “Poems decompose, / That’s the way it goes! / Poems decompose, / That’s the way it GOES!” On and on this went. Soon the audience—one by one—joined in the recitation, until their combined voices were enough to imbue the poem with a roaring life of its own: “POEMS DECOMPOSE, / THAT’S THE WAY IT GOES! / POEMS DECOMPOSE, / THAT’S THE WAY IT GOES!”
Things got pretty raucous and, frankly, downright weird. If you happened to be a little kid out trick-or-treating on the dimly-lit surrounding suburban streets—or if you lived in the adjacent trailer park and were quietly watching The Cosby Show on your TV set—and you heard this kooky-spooky chanting booming across the cemetery darkness, you too might have phoned the police. When the cops finally did arrive, the poetry lovers scattered like body snatchers caught in the act.
Even so, Eric’s reading was a great success. It remains in people’s minds the best poetry event ever conducted in the City of Davis, California. As for Eric, I haven’t seen him in years. I heard he moved to Hawaii.
My old note ended there, but I am happy to report that I have been back in touch with Eric for many years now, and though I still haven’t seen him in person, we do correspond regularly. In fact, I just sent him this note:
I came upon an old note of mine—from twenty years ago or more—concerning a memory of some years before that, involving you. Do you remember ever doing a poetry reading in the Davis Cemetery? That’s what this note seems to indicate, but I have no memory of that now. Is this note of mine about an actual memory, which I no longer have, or is it a note toward some piece of fiction I was considering? So what do you say, did that poetry reading in the Davis Cemetery ever actually happen? Or did I make it up? Or am I now planting a false memory in your imagination? Is it even proper to speak of memories being “true” or “false”? But anyways, let me know what you remember. Or don’t.
And he wrote back:
Aloha. Dude, I can’t remember twenty minutes ago. I left my briefcase on my doorstep today and drove all the way to school without it. Veronica was nice enough to bring it to me tonight so that I could give the students their graded papers. Memory? What’s a memory?
Now, I do not remember a reading in Davis Cemetery. I don’t even remember a Davis Cemetery. I don’t remember the location of an alleged Davis Cemetery. On the other hand, had the idea occurred to me, I certainly WOULD have done a reading in a Davis Cemetery had I had the opportunity. And you’re right, now that you have me thinking about it, I am actually either remembering or imagining that event. It is truly creepy how memories either seep up through the mulch of memory or actually uncover themselves or just manifest like the ghosts of stuff that never happened. I mean that: now I’m starting to remembermagine that I actually did. Weird.
And you actually have notes. Hmm.
So, there you have it: A memory resurrected that may never have been viable in the first place. But now it is, at least for me and Eric. And maybe for you too.
At this point, so close to the end, you may be wondering about the title of this little reminiscence of mine. I found the note in a folder labeled “Extinction Burst.” It was the title of that essay I never wrote, but now have.