Ralph Waldo Emerson, toward the end
of his life, found the names
of familiar objects escaping him.
He wanted to say something about a window,
or a table, or a book on a table.
But the word wasn't there,although other words could still suggestthe shape of what he meant.Then someone, his wife perhaps,would understand: "Yes, window! I'm sorry,is there a draft?" He'd nod.She'd rise. Once a friend dropped byto visit, shook out his umbrellain the hall, remarked upon the rain.Later the word umbrellavanished and becamethe thing that strangers take away.Paper, pen, table, book:was it possible for a man to thinkwithout them? To knowthat he was thinking? We rememberthat we forget, he'd written once,before he started to forget.Three times he was toldthat Longfellow had died.Without the past, the presentlay around him like the sea.Or like a ship, becalmed,upon the sea. He smiledto think he was the captain then,gazing off into whiteness,waiting for the wind to rise.–Lawrence Raab