"Into A Memory"
When I was little, I did not wander as a cloud. I floated on one. I have to admit, when the assignment was given to us to write about a poem, I did not think I would find one that would capture my interest or memory. For days, my ears would burn the table of contents as my fingers struck down page numbers in a hopeless search to find something that I could connect with, for something that I could write about and have it be genuine. I was lost and my hopes for finding a poem that would hold my interest long enough to allow me to write about it seemed an impossible reach. I was a bibliophile at heart, but I did not like writing about poetry. I enjoyed reading it, but writing about it was a different kind of circle of hell. On my fifth haphazard hunt through the table of contents, my ears caught something I had not noticed before. I was instantly drawn because it sounded familiar, “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” by William Wordsworth. I wanted to see why the poem sounded familiar. I had an odd sense that it would be significant to my life, but I did not know why or how. I wanted to explore the kind of emotional journey that this poem would take me through, and so I did.
After listening to the first line, I was transported to a memory that I did not even know I had: It is late at night, and I am six. I remember feeling the Braille calendar poised in my lap, my finger tracing the soft indentations of the moons among the days. A sound erupts from the living room and I look up, my ears picking up every shift of the air just a few rooms from me. Shouting soon breaks out as if I am in a pep rally. The shouting grows louder and more obscene with each passing word. My mother has made her appearance on stage yet again, and I start to sob.
I am guessing that Grandma and Grandpa are out in the fray as well, but I do not want to be in here all alone. The shouting reaches a volume I did not know could exist, and my fright and anger mesh into one emotion as the stupidity of the situation finally reaches me. My mother and her husband continue to scream at each other, mixing in sounds of hitting and smacking, until they produce the sound of someone striking the table.
Grandma comes into the room. I know it is her because I can smell the peach scented perfume that always comes when she is within a few feet from me. It is as if the smell alone is a blanket, about to wrap me up. My bedroom door softly clicks shut, and tender shoes thud over to me. She takes my small hand in hers.
“Are you ready for bed?” she asks. I fake a smile and nod, all the while trying to hide my anger at my stupid mother.
“Well, I'm sorry. I do not have a story for you tonight. All I have is this book of poems your grandfather gave me.”
I groan at the mention of poetry. Even at that young age, I would much rather she read me something GOOD, “Nancy Drew” or “The Hardy Boys”. I do not want to stay here any longer. Moreover, I like it when Grandma reads to me. Outside of my bubble of safety, my mother starts to cry as grandpa yells at her about how ridiculous she is acting. I hear pages slowly open. Grandma leans to read and instantly I am taken to the place of golden daffodils, leaving the screaming behind me.
“I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils.” (lines 1-5)
I am soon floating on that cloud looking at dancing yellow flowers. As Grandma continues to read the poem, I feel a sense of peace. I am flying, and the sounds of clashing in the kitchen are just a faint whisper. I am swept away by Grandma’s reading. We both are wandering as a cloud, but not lonely. I listen with eagerness as she finishes the poem, allowing me to ignore the smashing sounds coming from the next room. Once she is all done, she tucks me in and kisses me goodnight. She tells me she loves me, and then leaves the room. I soon drift on my own cloud of safety, finally able to feel calm and happy enough to go to sleep. I am comfortable and soon floating on my own cloud that is floating across vales and hills far from the treachery of the world.
I am safe.
That was when I was six. That memory of Grandma sprang to mind when I first listened to the poem. I reread the poem after that, repeatedly, making it my comfort poem. While I was reading the poem at that young age, I had a literal visual interpretation of the poem. It seemed pretty logical and obvious to me that that was what the poem meant, that the speaker was looking down at golden flowers swaying in the wind. I believed it so strongly that I vividly imagined this. Back then, I pictured vibrantly the golden tendrils swaying gently in the breeze, and some shadow sitting up high on a pink cloud looking down at this dancing show. For a long time that was how I interpreted the poem. I do not know when my interpretation changed, but it did.
I presume it changed just after my grandmother died and I had no way of escaping the domestic violence I had to endure. I would always wish that Grandma would come softly into my room, click my door shut and take me with her on a cloud high above the bad things in my life. With the passing of years, the poem disappeared from my thoughts.
Now, when I heard the poem again, I was instantly six again, feeling a sense of love. I replayed the poem, wearing out the skip back button on my CD player in order to keep hold of the memory that this poem helped to bring back from the dead. I loved this rare opportunity to smell Grandma’s peach scented perfume again. I loved the chance to hear her powerful, yet delicately articulate voice read me a poem to take away all the bad things in my life. Listening to the poem now, I realized that I had a different interpretation. Perhaps this new interpretation came from her death when I was seven. I believe that the loss of my grandmother, physically and mentally, had helped me to make this interpretation once I reclaimed her in my memory after so long of an absence. This poem helped me regain a memory that I did not know existed within me.
The speaker talks about how he is happy to watch “golden daffodils” dance. My grandmother was always like that, happy to see, create, and experience pure happiness. This poem, I believe, is what my grandmother sees and saw. Because of this realization about my grandmother, I no longer have the same image when I listen to the poem. I picture someone looking down on people, but not just any people, I picture someone looking down at me, and a few other people, some wealthy, some poor, some old, some young, some black, some white, some Asian, and some of everything. All of us are dancing with an airy display for our spectator. We all twirl and giggle as we all choreograph a perfect rhythm.
I no longer picture the shadow on top of the cloud as having no face or figure. It now has a form and a shape to it. It is someone I know. I picture the wrinkly old woman looking down at us softly smiling. She is comfortable on the pink cloud, basking in her glory and her peace. I am sure, if we were closer, we would smell the peach scented perfume. I picture the old woman slowly bringing her wrinkled hands together, clapping and shedding silent tears as she watches the spectacle.
I would like to think that she would be smiling at this point; glad to finally have the opportunity to watch the best show in the world, the show of a host of golden daffodils tossing our heads up in a sprightly dance.
‘Into A Memory’ was first published in Magnets and Ladders, December 2012.