This poem was sparked by my research into memory studies. I learned that the brain is designed not just to retain information but also to forget it. The natural erosion of memory over time can feel daunting because it is as if I am losing parts of my past and by extension parts of myself. Writing poetry, in many ways, is an impulse against forgetting. However, I realize forgetting can be a beneficial process in the sense that it distances us from the immediacy and intensity of experiences like grief and fear. This poem speaks to the memories that don’t follow this trajectory of forgetting—that never seem to lose their sharpness. Certain memories recur whether we want them to or not. 

Peering into the scoured bathtub, I spot
sour mildew budding. I wake to pink biofilm
on graying porcelain. Even slime mold has memory;
its amoeba body retrieves oat flakes. After I scythe
seven inches of hair, still I feel long strands running
down my spine. Ever since the flood, I try not to hold
onto much, exfoliate dead cells as if this excess
might weigh down a life raft. I slip pale sea glass
into my pocket only to part with it once I reach the car.
I used to capture wild hermit crabs, place them
in salted tap water, swooshing the tupperware
to mimic waves. I thought I could trick them
into being home. The hermit crabs lasted a day,
leaving behind their tiny calcified capsules, perfect
like piped frosting. The brain wants to be buoyant,
shedding ghosts to avoid overgrowth. We’re meant
to slough off the past, but I still don’t know
where to keep the shells the tide gives back.

Mollie O’Leary is a poet from Massachusetts. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. Mollie’s chapbook The Forgetting Curve is forthcoming through Poetry Online’s chapbook series. Her work has appeared in Frontier Poetry, Poetry Online, DIALOGIST, and elsewhere. Mollie has participated in workshops through Tin House and Inprint, and also attended residencies in Mexico, Italy, and Norway. She reads for GASHER Journal.



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