Unlocked Memories

I watched you paint a picture every day,
we created art that summer.

The slow curve of your hand and tilt of your head
made me believe in many things – the power of the mind,
the possession of the soul.

I stand now, years later, back in that space.
I stare up at a box, stashed high
in the the closet, and call my father over to retrieve it.

“What’s in here?” he asks, and I just shrug, smile, at least I think I smile.

The box is ripped open and the contents spill out before my eyes.
Three works of art, some loose change, a roll of duct tape, old rags, and a key.

I pick up the key and time unwinds.
Somehow the curtains have opened,
and the sun has already slid halfway across the dusty floor,
now halfway up my left arm, onto my blouse,

it spreads like paint,
like an ocean it swallows
me in pieces.

And I want nothing more than to drown –
if only I could,
if I could touch that light –
why can’t I reach up and nail it to the wall?

This is edited from a longer piece I wrote years ago.

Written for dVerse Open Link Night. 

Published by Tricia Sankey

Plays with words in her free time.

38 thoughts on “Unlocked Memories

  1. Wow, this is… stunning. I read it aloud to myself and it just hit me so hard, your words. The holding of that memory, I feel the key is metaphorical to unlocking it. Everything else falls into place when reminiscing; the grief, the longing, the drowning in the different parts of that memory (how we can remember specific things like the lighting, or the shoes someone wore, or how they wore their hair that day, etc, etc) that you only wish you can hold it; you wish you could hold all that created that memory, especially the one who was there to help make that memory happen. The key only surfaced it.

    Heartbreaking and heartfelt. This is beautifully woven with emotion and perhaps grief. It is beautiful how you wrote this poem–it is solemn yet it is a gut punch with that longing. I loved these lines the most:

    “it spreads like paint,
    like an ocean it swallows
    me in pieces.”

    Wow. Amazing, amazing work. My hat is off to you, poetess!

    1. Aww! 😊 Your comments made me smile! I had a longer version years ago, but I like this flash/poem version a little better. I tried to make both mysterious with her finding “the key” as I think where the reader’s imagination goes is better than what I could come up with. But yes, it’s both a real key and metaphorical key to unlocking sweet memories of one she so wishes she could see again. Thanks for your feedback! 🌹

      1. I once wrote a three page poem, that over several years I finally finished it, now it is 6 lines, and I feel it is my best poem so far. This OLN I posted a poem that has been sitting nearly a year from the first iteration, it is actually a little longer than the first one, but more succinct, is that possible?

      2. yes, it is a journey to find the right length for a piece. I think over time when I look back at something with fresh eyes, the editing becomes MUCH sharper!

  2. I love that detail of the sunlight creeping to mark the passing of time, and her wish she’d nailed the sunlight to the wall, making time stand still. I like the mysterious aspect to this. It doesn’t matter what was in the box, they’re memories, and that’s the important part.

  3. A stunning poem, Tricia! I could see every bit of it in my mind’s eye. I love the way you take us straight into the scene with the opening lines and the beautifully descriptive ‘slow curve of your hand and tilt of your head’ brought it closer. I also love the shift to ‘I stand now, years later, back in that space’; the way the key opens up the memories; and the movement of the sun in the lines:
    ‘and the sun has already slid halfway across the dusty floor,
    now halfway up my left arm, onto my blouse,
    it spreads like paint,
    like an ocean it swallows
    me in pieces’.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Kim! It is a bit more like flash fiction that jumps into a moment in time (my original, longer version) but I liked breaking it up in pieces here as a poem, kind of like the pieces of memory swallowing her 💖

  4. This is a loverly poem. Everything in life shifts and sifts to memories and longing, what a powerful conclusion, I thought the light spreading and swallowing would be my favorite part of the poem, but it was only setting up the beautiful tender haunting final question.

    “if I could touch that light –
    why can’t I nail it to the wall?”

    We often want to hold or posses what we love, but to think we own something beautiful is an appropriation. You can bid millions for a Monet, but tothink that you own it, that you hold it, the shifting light, the squinting eyes, the multiple easels set up to catch different visions in different light. Who can own that action and that beauty even if you can buy the thing and nail it up. The reality is more transubstantial and elusive. If true with a piece of art, how much more so with a person or a memory? Good Question, excellent poem. I am pinning this on my wall nevertheless. 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading ❤️ You make some good points about trying to possess something. We have to accept the give and take in this life at least. The sun keeps moving and we can’t nail it down 🙃

  5. If I don’t interact with something about every, oh, 10 minutes or so, it ceases to exist. For me, all boxes are this box. This is a great inventory and your last line is a killer-diller. Salute

  6. This has such a feel of longing, and the way an object (or song, photo, scent) can unlock a memory–and suddenly you’re there, but not, but maybe wanting to be –“to nail that light. . .”

    The mention of art makes me think of my mom who was an artist, and when our daughters were little, she used to paint with them (and now one of my daughters is an artist).

    1. I’m so happy it touched you with a memory of your own! I was trying to wrap up the emotion of longing and missing someone into a moment, as her memory takes over and she realizes it is gone. Thanks! 💖

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