Adventures in Ethics and Science

Ewan made a generous donation to one of the projects in my challenge and, as he did last year, he requested a poem illustrated by the sprogs on the subject of memory.

It turns out that drawing “memory” is pretty challenging! However, the sprogs worked out some ways to represent the concept of memory more concretely. So, we offer a poem, some illustration, and our thanks to Ewan:


“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”
Hamlet, Act IV, scene v

I can’t remember how to sit down
to write a proper poem,
though somehow I can remember the feel of the humid air,
the smell of summer in the night,
the way the song on the radio made my stomach flip
when, at sixteen, the words poured from my pen
to fill notebooks full of verse.

I don’t remember whether I ever
learned the scientists’ theories
about the encoding, storage, retrieval
of scraps of experience in my brain
that make my life seem like more than
just this moment,
that fix a moment like a pressed flower
or a butterfly pinned to a mat.

Am I defined by the memories that stuck?
Were the things I’ve forgotten
experiences that were not really mine?
And what does it say about me that my memories
are such a junk-drawer jumble?

The scent of dead fish baking on the sands by Lake Michigan.
The panicky feel of water up my nose.
Learning how to conjugate Latin verbs,
how to throw a Frisbee,
how to kiss,
how to balance redox reactions,
how to survive utter embarrassment.

Of these mental keepsakes,
how many are authentic?
Would I recognize
the actual experiences as my own
if I were to live them again?
Has reliving them in my head
transformed them —
transformed me —
into something else?

I remember that I used to
write good poems now and then.
Maybe the “me” I was then was poetic
and inspired
and fearless.
But maybe the memory
of a gift I seem to have lost
is something I constructed
in telling the story of who I am now,
of what sort of past
could explain me.



In this last picture, the elder Free-Ride offspring started with the idea that memory is like a maze — and ran with it.


  1. #1 Ewan
    October 27, 2008

    Too cool.

    Thanks, sprogs and Janet! See you next year? 🙂

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