(Please refer to the 10/8 post to read the poem).
Yesterday I couldn't get past the first stanza, but today the second stanza is practically screaming at me. I have learned this about Ashbery's work: don't be discouraged if at first a poem seems disconnected and confusing. Just let it sit with you a while, and certain words or images or ideas will begin to leap out from the page. One must be comfortable with non-linear thought and experience to read his work.
Having said that, it quite suddenly occured to me this morning how the second stanza reflects my experience in writing a memoir: "I'd have deserted the land of my forefathers / a dozen times before if I'd thought / I could get away with it." The speaker could be referring to the effort to abandon the carried anxiety, and learning it travels with us as we move about. Today, it reminds me of my effort to create a life free from the tremendous fear and pain my parents live with; the damage they suffered as children that they passed on the their children. In a sense, I have abandoned the "land of my forefathers" in that I no longer have a relationship with my parents; but that fact does not result in a dropping of anxiety and fear. So, as the speaker says, one can't "get away with" nullifying previous painful experiences and their consequences.
In writing my memoir, every memory I write seems to bring up memories long hidden. These will never disappear. But, I believe, I can create a life that includes these memories, and even some of the pain, while freeing myself from the damaging behaviors and fears of my parents. I have a "shadow" telling me "of my rights:" I have a right to tell my story; I have a right to create my own life. At the same time, the shadow warns me "of perjury, in some books the most serious crime of all." Along with my rights, I have a responsibilty to tell the truth. In a memoir, the most significant truth is the emotional truth of each experience and each scene, while also getting the facts as straight as possible. A memoir is not about revenge, or bitterness; it is not a place to rant or vent; no matter the painful subject, a memoir is for storytelling, reflection, and a record of growth. So I have a right to write it, and a responsibilty to write it with maturity and hope.