Sarah Arvio’s poem “Memory” is one of forty-nine poems collected in her first book, Visits to the Seventh, published in June 2003 by Alfred A. Knopf in New York. Poems in this collection capture traces of dialogue between a woman and several ethereal presences; they talk about the break-up of the woman’s love affair and the death of her mother. In “Memory,” which first appeared in Raritan Quarterly, the poet examines remembrances of the lovers’ quarrel that lead to the break-up. Visits to the Seventh marks Arvio’s literary debut, accomplished by Arvio in her forties after publishing poetry in several literary journals such as Poetry, The Paris Review, and Best American Poetry 1998. The poet’s dialogues with these visitors—either ghosts of the dead, the voice of Arvio’s inner life or a chorus of her poetic muses—speak to the meaning of life and the sense of longing created by the insufficiency of memory. “Memory,” like most of Arvio’s poems in this collection, is written in free verse, the term typically used to describe nonmetrical and unrhymed poetry, common among contemporary poets. Metrical verse derives its structure from a set of formal rules for the length and arrangement of each line. Arvio groups her poems in stanzas often linked together by lines that continue a thought, a piece of dialogue or an action into the following stanza.
In “Memory,” a woman still suffering from the break-up with her lover is addressed by the invisible “visitors” who inhabit a “seventh” dimension, the “sixth” being sex, which they have explained in poems that precede this one in the collection. The first line begins with their question: “And do we remember our living lives?”—our lives as they were lived without the revision of memory? In the first, fiveline stanza, the woman in the poem recalls the details of a daily life in which strife and death are temporarily absent—details such as the clock measuring seemingly endless time or the door in which a lover enters. Near the end of this stanza, however, the reader becomes unable to deny what is coming, tipped off by language escalating in emotion from the almost quotidian though tender “I love you” to an urgent and anguished “why?” What caused the argument, which the poet does not actually discuss in detail in the poem. What was its now elusive trigger? What did the speaker mean to the lover who broke from her?
In the second stanza, lines 6 through 10, the poet’s unseen visitors reveal to her that death does not take the sting out of memory, improve the quality of its ability to record events, or resolve its conundrums. “You see,” the visitors say, “our memories are much like yours, / here a shadow, a sound, a shred, a wisp.” But they also frame for her...
(The entire section is 528 words.)