Reflections of a History Professor
Through a Telescope at 4 a.m.
One morning at 4 a.m.,
you are able to view five
in the southwestern
sky. Mercury, Venus,
Saturn, Mars, and
Jupiter, visible in a
wide arc low above
When you are 70
memories fly at you like
flies swarming a picnic.
They are near impossible to catch and hold,
let alone kill,
or drive away.
You would think that lived experience,
especially the big things—the
experiences that you claim you will never
forget for the rest of your life,
no matter how long you live—
would remain fixed in your mind.
I was in my forties when my wife and I
finally had a child, April.
I remember holding my daughter
moments after she was born,
with my head swelling and my eyes leaking.
In that moment I thought I would always
remember the texture of her skin, the
pierce of her cry, the solid weight of her
body, the pressure building in my heart like a
plane on takeoff.
Memories, we think, should be concrete,
like a flashback played in a movie,
with sharp lines and indelible colors,
like the camera lens itself.
But daughters grow old and the demands of
life continue to build and one day you
realize that you don’t remember what it
felt like to hold her little girl hand in the
parking lot or the smell of her hair
fresh out of the bathtub or the
of a simple walk down the street—
a matter of a few hundred yards that
should take ten minutes and
serve the double function of getting your
wife off your back because she hasn’t
“had one moment to herself,” as well as
clear the head for another go at writing
that tricky chapter on the consequences
of the battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas,
only to become a series of starts and stops,
picking of dandelion bouquets and
sorting of rocks, idle questions
about God and the world he made,
and silly songs—
that ends up taking an hour and by the
time you get back to your desk the writing trail
has gone cold and your wife is still mad and
your daughter needs a snack and that loose
step on the stairs is still loose
and on it goes.