April Ossmann

Living Without Memory

She’s riding home on the crowded subway,
staring at the back of her hand
where the familiar half-moon scar
curves over a knuckle:
She was washing a cup
and it broke with her hand inside it.
She studies her square palm, long fingers,
beginning of a hangnail.
She has a sudden sense of vertigo,
and when it passes
she is still staring at the hand,
but it could belong to anybody.
She watches it move and has no sense
of willing it, no sense of its history or importance.
At first, habit is strong enough to guide her
to a house, to fit a key to the lock.
It bids her embrace a man,
who does not remember,
and pushes her away in surprise–
then pulls her towards him.
Their dog yaps at their heels,
snapping and biting and tearing
at their trouser legs.
By morning it is worse.
Now only instinct guides her
still nude, to eat breakfast
but things disintegrate rapidly–
the spoon falls from her hand,
and the oatmeal dribbles
down her chin unheeded.
She has a gnawing feeling in her stomach, as finally,
without food, love or language,
she walks the same unfamiliar streets, and
unaware of the danger of the wandering drivers,
stares blindly up into the mid-day sun.

April Ossmann
Living Without Memory first appeared in Georgetown Review, Vol. 3, No.2, Summer 1995.