by Sara Greenslit





(look up/fill in later— 

Like a geometric shape with nebulous edges—you can stick your hand in and out of it, 3-D, but  it’s all mist. You can’t hold it, contain it, name it, create it, move it, gather it, hide it, know where  it starts/ends. 

I said vestigial when I meant vestibular. 

I quiz myself in the car: name that bird, name that song, list the shirts in your closet, the lunches you had last week. 

How fast is your recall? What about the next day?

          And      (  

A kind of falling 

If I list the possible causes, do the losses lose their terror? 

If I can categorize it, will it stick? Will I stop the sieve? 

1. Episodic memory: getting a kitten for your fifth birthday. 
2. Semantic memory: 4 + 4 = 8. 
3. Procedural memory: tying shoes. 

1. Sensory memory: the smell of lilacs = spring, walking home from the bus. 
2. Short-term memory: grocery list. 
3. Long-term memory: black patent leather, fake crocodile shoes, high school. 

When it’s a story, like a patient is gimpy, and I feel pain at his left hip, this adheres, it stays with  less haziness. 

I said valediction when I meant validation. 

I keep waiting for the return of the white pelicans to the river. They are absent from the sandbar,  where they often rest in the spring on their way to northern prairies to nest. Seagulls overtake the  spit instead. 

They are aberrant migrators, these giant white birds, slowing seeping east from Minnesota.  What’s just a decade of new arrivals can slide into expectation. I get agitated and worry when  what’s bonus disappears. A neighbor says not to fret; it’s still too early to see them. By believing  this, I gaslight myself. 

On a multiple-choice test, between C or D, I could go back and forth forever. I used to waver  less. Now both answers seem right.  

After the hundreds of exams I’ve taken, the information tipped out my ear when I leaned over. 

New spacial relationships challenge the brain. London cab drivers have more grey matter in their  hippocampi, the center for long-term memory and spatial navigation, from memorizing 25,000  streets in a 10-kilometer radius, plus thousands of local hot spots.  

Two types of navigation, the neuronal traipse is via foot or bird’s eye view. I do not know your  house number, but I look for the maple tree where I turn.  

More quizzes while driving: picture how to get to Y. Which way to the Atlantic? to California?  Which direction is the wind buffeting the car? How strong a gust? 

Addendum: the cabbies did worse than the general population on visual memory, a cognitive trade-off. There’s only so much room in the inn. 



A younger, faster, more confident brain, scant doubt, even sans doubt—countless tiny hooks securing facts. 

Compared to the gapped stammer, neurons slippery with amnesia [no claws], straining at an  uncrackable safe.  

A notebook page erased until it erodes into a hole. What’s behind it—air, blank, black, stubbled with eraser dregs—that chasm contains everything and nothing. 

Can one relax into not knowing, let go, or is it a kind of abdication? 

My mother and I: aphasia from the start. We communicate without nouns, using adj, v. 

My 82-year-old mother and her sharp memory of events. She asks, Remember? I often say, No. 

I can never find my glasses, I have 92 lists on my phone. I have a daily pill case. Twelve years after chemo. 

Sometimes it’s pronunciation I can’t quite formulate. Contemplative fumbles out into the wrong syllables, the messed stresses. When said out loud by another, it’s iambic, and when said  correctly feels like an open window that airs out the house in spring. 

I do not want a diagnosis, I want static, it feels static, not degenerative, I want bright spark.

I’m almost asleep and I can’t remember the patient’s name I saw earlier in the day: one syllable,  four-lettered, heavily constanted [what is the word?] aural-slap. Mack? Mack. Or was he the  patient on Tuesday, and his name was?  

The next night I remember my Tuesday patient was Duke, but I cannot dredge up the name  Mack. And what kind of dog was Duke? I look up his record to remember. Ah, yes: brindle, pit mix.  

                                        (the word was  

The word was consonant-ed. 

Remembering something, finally, is not only like seeing a branch come into focus through  binoculars, but also the bird you sought. 

I am a colander [I strain, I sift, I concentrate, I compress]. 

A chickadees’ hippocampus grows in fall and winter, remembering its cache of food, then it shrinks again in spring and summer. Other species do it differently; they overstock their  territories and re-forage to find food. Others “chunk”: store similar items together, to make  remembering them easier.  

I may not remember patients’ names but I never have. Don’t introduce yourself to me at a party  and expect I’ll know your name 30 seconds later. I do remember a patient’s idiosyncratic histories for the most part, and how I treated them since it involved tactile input, another register  of memory-loading. 

Can’t find the right word, yet I never forget the word aphasia. 

When I am seeking, I can usually grab the category, noun or verb, getting closer— the word: was  it FaceTime, a modem? Not even on tip of my tongue. I wait. Longer. Then look it up: Hot Spot.  The next morning, I cannot find the phrase again. 

Starlings, some call a garbage species since they are invasive, arrive. I walk by a corner house, its yard framed by one-story cedars, and the trees are packed with chortles and whistles and  schzzzz. The birds are tremendous mimics and I can be tricked if I am half-paying attention. That is not a dog whistle.  

I forget a rhetoric synonym for a group of words used in a specific job/specialty, like medicine. I come up with diction, then tenor, but that’s not quite right. A friend texts me like a lifeline on a  game show. It’s register. A bright whap in my neurons: yes! 

A writing teacher said to always write down your thoughts at night because you will never  remember them later. The poem drafts they left in an airport bathroom will always be better than those lost, remade from memory. The tiny hooks, grasping.  

And to be contrary, my brain remembered two of the three things I wanted to put in here today,  from last night. 

Do I remember you more if I like or dislike you? If you like me or dislike me?

I wait for the word to arrive. (                    — 

Someone near reaches out, offers to fill in the blank. Gaps aren’t ever-present unless I am tired.  Caffeine and/or a good sleep amends. 

I used to perseverate over dark memories, hurtful words, large and small deaths, embarrassing  moments, but I stopped. I don’t want those synaptic memories digging deeper grooves.  Depression doesn’t need to be fed.  

Evoke, recollect, summon, ID. Dredge is the most apt.  
Retain, maintain, memorize, preserve, save. 
The computer’s thesaurus tool has no match for:     , and     , or  

My space bar acts up and takes inordinate pressure and effort to make it work. Typing is laborious, frustrating, sputtered. You make the metaphor here. 

I unspool and re-spool words and phrases. I forget verbal events mentioned, especially if my  partner says something in the evening when I get home from work. 

I walk into another room and my important statements vaporize. 

The TV remote disappears: I am blamed. (Not the house spirit who was tired of me watching a  show about psychic kids.) 

While walking my little dog by the neighbor’s driveway, she pulls me over, wants to see her  malamute friend who, each day, exchanged howls for her barks, the currency of excitement, the  great shaggy shape hauling her arthritic back end up with the brute strength of the front to stand. My dog does not know she died, though I want her to sense it somehow, the things that dogs know, how they know, what we cannot. How many days will she continue to seek what’s missing? 

I am irritable with loss, I am sad with it, I am furious, exhausted— 

I am complacent, I am lost inside my own brain.  

I fall, I have been felled.  

I leave space for                   and                   and I wait, heliotropic—

About the Author

Sara Greenslit is a small animal veterinarian from Wisconsin. She earned an MFA in poetry from Penn State and a DVM from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has published two hybrid novels–As If A Bird Flew By Me, winner of the FC2 Sukenick Innovative Fiction Award, and The Blue of Her Body, winner of the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction.