The Memory Hall

by Merryn Williams

Unlock the door; the key protests, but I
step boldly in once more.  It’s dark, this hall,
and bigger than I would like; long lines of windows,
obscure and high up, stretch along each wall.
The grime of decades fogs them.  They’d defy
strong men.  But somehow I contrived to clear
(though I should have known better)
at great expense, two windows in one year.

So, get your sponge and water, and start scraping,
small, brightly-coloured figures soon appear.
Not dead, but frozen in a single attitude;
they’ve aged, of course, but since I’m only seeing
their past, that doesn’t matter.
Amazing how you can burrow into the seabed,
retrieve each detail.
The dirt rolls off.  The Sixties reappear.

The first, a scene I’d rather not remember,
but here it comes.  I see a young man lurching,
spectacularly drunk, through a lush landscape,
towards me, holding out a wedding ring;
hear his slurred words, “I love you,
I know I’m mad.”  I wanted no such thing.
Set in green glass, a river
that flows between us.  Half a lifetime ago.

The scene which follows is entirely different.
I breathe a purer air, red flags and snow.
Quiet and reasonable, this fanatic.
I see him loom out of the darkness, stop me;
my pulse beats faster,
but if he’s bald, or grey, I wouldn’t know.
A moon in Silver Street was breasting
the clouds, we stood an inch apart.  And now?

The rest I won’t disturb.  These glassy fragments
I recognise, are pieces of the jigsaw
not destined to be fitted.  I can’t go
deeper into this hall.
The cleaning rags are black, the dust has filled
my throat.  This is no national museum.
It’s only fools who struggle to recapture
their past.  And darkness blocks the furthest wall.