“I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know”
Oxford Writers’ House is pleased to announce a new re-fresh response series. Every week we will publish a quotation (from a film, newspaper article, song, speech…) and we want you to submit your creative responses, whatever they may be! . We will be looking for two or three pieces a week. Genres can range from poetry to prose (short/flash fiction) and everything in between.
For the first instalment in our new series we have asked members of OWH staff to submit their work in response to the quote “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know” (from Bob Dylan’s version of the song with the same title).
Below are the creative responses of our very own Sophie Badman (Publication Assistant), Gabrielle Bucaya (Marketing Director), and Yashwina Canter (Creative Assistant).
Enjoy! And see you next week with responses to the quote “Don’t tell me words don’t matter” (from Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Founders Day Gala, Feb 16th, 2008).
at the air and my head goes
I’ve just brought the washing in. My coat’s too thin
the usual disgruntlement
of socks and sheet
then I stopped
were my feet
and the sky
like tender pitchforks
just one star
so far and I thought of you
The Yellow Sweater
Captivated by a mesmerizing hum, that would bring me to the moon,
There wasn’t quite anything that brightened up my mood,
Then seeing a smile attached to a dream I had for quite some time.
I recall it was a warmer day in June,
When I would crave mornings just to be next by his side,
Without realizing that only a few months away -
He would would inevitably take away my pride.
The boy in the yellow sweater kept me warm one night.
I swear to you, it was the hardest goodbye when the sun came up,
Yearning for his hug, craving his kiss -
All became a bittersweet memory, a man that I had come to miss.
And when they ask for him, ask for him again -
I will simply pretend,
That he was a lover from a dream, and the farthest thing from a friend.
‘I have forgotten more than you will ever know’
By the end, my grandfather didn’t remember who I was. Our introductions were formal, endearingly stilted. ‘Why have you come to see me so precipitously?’ he asked me once, bitter that my mother and I hadn’t visited sooner, and yet unsure who we were in relation to him. Of course, he remembered my mother more clearly- his daughter the doctor, who would chat with the on-duty nurses about the details of his medication regimens when she’d make them tea on late-shift visits. Being at university overseas, and only home intermittently, my character slurred into hers. ‘Ashu,’ he’d call us both, a semblance of both her name and my childhood nickname at once.
I remembered the stories I’d grown up hearing about this man, about the red convertible he drove through St. Paul, Minnesota, with its stash of candy for his daughters in the glove compartment, about his bus-stop conversations in Princeton with Einstein and his marches with MLK and Gandhi. I remembered secretly preferring him to my grandmother as a child because he never scolded me (even, or especially, when I deserved it), and I remembered long hours of sitting in his lap as he read aloud Sherlock Holmes stories. He’d read them so many times that he remembered entire pages by heart.
I remembered him and he didn’t remember me, and this floated between us on our last visits. But he remembered Sherlock Holmes, and he remembered the work. ‘She’s at Oxford now,’ my mother said by way of introduction, and he lit up. ‘Oxford University? Are you an undergraduate?’ My grandfather had always been a dyed-in-the-wool academic. He navigated lofty abstractions and advanced statistics with far more ease than he did human interaction. And now, the same held true. He lit up, leaning forward in bed, peering at me with owlish eyes from underneath the well-loved wolf-fur hat he’d gotten long ago on a sabbatical visit to Russia. ‘She studies English Literature,’ my mother said. He pouted. ‘You should do mathematics instead.’
He didn’t mean it- he had always adored books. And so the conversation drifted to what I was reading (‘What research are you working on presently?’) and ‘When will you commence your doctorate? Will you do a Masters first? Who do you wish to have as your supervisor?’ He remembered the minutiae of academic protocol, asking me about the nature of my degree program in comparison with American liberal-arts degrees, about career trajectories and academic specialization ‘in my field’ and which journals I read. And then, he’d tell me about his. It was the first, and the last, time I glimpsed him as an equal. We talked like this for hours.
I’d only ever heard stories of the too-clever-for-his-own-good young father with the red convertible. By the time I was in the world, my grandfather was a man of cardigans and early nights, and his escapades were fossilized as the diplomas on the walls and the books with his name on the cover. The man had spent his whole life knowing, and I had spent my whole life only knowing that version of him. Only the degeneration of that formidable brain allowed him to forget, to excavate from the accumulated sediment of a long life a fragment of a creature who had once roamed the earth in a wolf-fur hat, with caramel in the glove compartment.
(Image by Gary Bridgman, own work, http://www.southsideartgallery.com, via Wikimedia Commons)