Issue 31 Foreword

Danielle Ofri

Reconstructions: The Art of Memory

“Memory takes a lot of poetic license,” wrote Tennessee Williams  in the stage directions to The Glass Menagerie. “It omits some details;  others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the  articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.” 

This issue of the Bellevue Literary Review is devoted to the theme  of memory. It is entitled “Reconstructions: The Art of Memory”  because, as Williams points out, memory is based in the heart. Our  brains—and our pens—take poetic license freely as the stories of  our lives are reconstructed by our hearts into the “facts” by which  we define ourselves. 

These memories, however poetically refashioned, create  our identity. Without them, we would wake up each day in the  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—the movie in which a medical  procedure can erase unwanted memories. Luckily, our memories  remain far from spotless. Their very messiness is the fodder from  which many a harrowing novel or poem have arisen. 

Often these memories are invoked by particular places. We are  thrilled that the cover of the BLR features the work of David  Heald, the noted architectural photographer, and the photographer  of the Guggenheim Museum. His photographs of the twelfth century Pontigny Abbey are particularly evocative of memory and  contemplation. (More details on the copyright page.) Francine Prose offers an introduction to this special issue on  memory with “The Library of Forgetting,” her vivid essay about  facing down her endless shelves of books. “There was a time,”  writes Prose, “…when I would become first disbelieving, then  amazed, then shocked, then depressed to think that I could have  read so much and remembered so little.” This may hit a little too  close to home for many of us, but she reminds us that, ultimately,  “books safeguard our memories for us.” 

Sometimes memories are safeguarded against our will. In the story  “Et Tu?” by Cambron Henderson, an English professor, now saddled  with aphasia and hemi-paresis from a stroke, is tormented by the  memories of his prior linguistic and romantic abilities. His calculations  and determination as he tries to convey his emotions to the young  hospital volunteer who visits with her dog are nothing short of heroic. Heroism and determination are taken to extremes in the story  “When Her Father Was an Island,” in which a Japanese soldier  remains fixed in his patriotic duty, even as the world—and his  family—moves on. Sara Batkie explores the relationship of past  and present as the soldier’s daughter navigates her way forward  despite the many unsettled strands of history. 

“Memory without yearning/” writes Nicholas Samaras in his  poem, “The Nature of Memory,” “isn’t nostalgic, isn’t / any memory  that makes us, / but is only what we tolerate or suffer through.” Ellen  Collins draws together these threads in her rhapsodic story, “Song  of Memory.” Almost a prose poem, the story is an elegy to our  faltering memories. Collins skillfully interweaves both the universal  and the specific in a way that elicits both empathy and mortal panic. 

In the poem “Accounting,” by Deborah Golub, two women  compare their sexual exploits of the 1970s. Except that things  get a little confusing—emotionally and logistically. “How much is  lost when we add / things up? Except, after that, I just stopped /  telling, and Ruth, by now, has forgotten it all.” 

Toni Mirosevich, in her essay “As High,” knits together  memories as she walks along an ocean promenade. “A story grows  long and leggy,” she writes. “The distance grows from what we  remember…” Pamela Schmid feels that same poignant pull. “The  details slip away even now,” she writes about her sister in the essay  “Good Measure,” “like water through clenched fingers.”  

In the poem “Revision,” Jennifer Molnar offers a memory of  an August afternoon in a room with a slanted roof, leaves brushing  against the window. But then she stops: “I want to say I am not  making up these details.” When it comes to creating a memory, she  recognizes that she “couldn’t yet know what would take hold.” 

We hope you enjoy this issue and that these stories, poems  and essays take hold in your own memory. What are our current  experiences, after all, if not seeds of our future memories?