Heather Aimee O’Neill, Memory Future
Publisher: Gold Line Press
2011, 35 pages, paperback, $9
Memory Future features poems that explore love and loss on the modern world’s terms. They show the inexperienced reader a glimpse into heartbreak while also welcoming readers who’ve already had their heart trampled with a yeah-I’ve-been-there kind of head nod.
O’Neill dives into the presence of memory and the future, guiding the reader on a journey of emotional exploration. These two concepts weigh heavy on the mind and are shown in full definition—masquerading between the language of the poetry and elements of modern life.
We often wrestle with the definition of memory and what exactly happened in our pasts. The author grapples with the impossible, doing what so many of us often attempt: defining who our past lovers are. Relationships sometimes don’t work and can feel hopeless due to something unnamable, but O’Neill takes a straightforward approach to exploring turbulent recollections of lost loves:
Let’s begin by deciding what it is
we’re trying to define. You’re
impossible. That’s what I’ve decided,
that’s how I’ve defined you.
O’Neill surprises readers with images that attempt to explain seemingly inexplicable abstract ideas. These images persuade the reader not only to accept them but to crave them throughout the collection like a cocktail of the modern and the distant past mixed together:
Mars may have been a land of lakes,
but the satellite orbits us, and the photos
can’t reveal such distant history.
And why should they? We can’t
even be honest with each other,
let alone believe the billion years
it took for us to happen: first water,
then body, voice, and faith.
The contemplation of how long it took for ‘us’ to even happen turns readers toward understanding that a relationship might be much larger than we think. Love isn’t simply our actions or the words we speak each day. It’s as big as everything that’s come before us and everything that will come after.
However, memory and the future are also defined by present actions and realizations. The past often reminds of us of what has happened and how great something once was, but O’Neill shows us how we need to learn to be present and see our relationships for what they really are:
I walk alongside the train, turn
to catch your eyes one last
time through the commuter crowd.
But you look straight ahead into
the dark lines of the tunnel,
book resting on your lap, eyes
full of the hazel green in your scarf.
You could live without me.
This petite book of poetry not only promises a glimpse into love and loss, but also a new way of thinking about our lives. O’Neill wants readers to walk away from this book with a sense of having their feet simultaneously placed in memory and in the future. Only when readers can reside in both places will they be able to see the world in its complete truth.