What I Don’t Want to Remember

There are lots of jokes about forgotten anniversaries, usually to reprove husbands who have forgotten the anniversary of their marriage. I have forgotten my own wedding anniversary numerous times, much to the chagrin of my husband. But an anniversary I would rather not remember is the date of Carolyn Heilbrun’s suicide. Today, October 9 as I write, is the anniversary of my friend’s suicide. Actually, it was a Thursday not a Wednesday, but I guess the date is more to the point, though the day seems more real. Carolyn believed in routine, and Thursday was Susan Heath.

I was in England when Carolyn’s great friend Susan Heath called with the news. Thursday was their designated day for dinner, and when Susan arrived at the building for their date she discovered the body. “The journey is over,” Carolyn wrote in the only note we know about, “Love to all.” Carolyn had left little to chance and she had counted on Susan to have the strength to survive the experience.

41Qb2iDjtVLToday I was teaching poems by poets Carolyn loved and admired, even if she had occasional minor quarrels with them―Rich and Sexton. Reading poetry today in the digital age is a heightened experience since we can look at and listen to poets reading their poetry. While looking at the YouTube menu, an interview between Diane Middlebrook and Anne Sexton caught my eye. I couldn’t resist making the students listen to Diane’s voice―we had just read her wonderfully explanatory essay “What Was Confessional Poetry?”―and it seemed appropriate to listen at least briefly.

Slipped into my copy of  Rich’s The Fact of a Doorframe, was a fax from Carolyn: CGH to NKM, dated March 19, 1998. It was the closing stanza of “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law.” Beneath the poem Carolyn had handwritten a quotation from The Second Sex in which Beauvoir creates the metaphor of the amazing woman that Rich seems to reprise when she writes–“as beautiful as any boy/or helicopter.” Beauvoir’s prose: “she is a helicopter and she is a bird.”

These two friends loved poetry and both are dead, Carolyn by suicide in 2003, Diane from cancer in 2007. Sexton’s suicide links Carolyn and Diane in my mind. Carolyn was an attentive reader of suicide; so was Diane, since she had also written the biography of Plath in her relation to Hughes.

Suddenly, there I was in the classroom looking at bright young faces and feeling very far away, in a place where death was all too real. I did not mention the anniversary to the students because it would not have been an anniversary for them; they had nothing to remember.

For over 20 years, I had dinner with Carolyn. Tuesdays. As each week passes, I remember that I’m not having dinner with Carolyn, or as my husband used to say, “having Carolyn.” That day of the week always seems empty to me.

I’ve picked up the weekly dinner with Victoria Rosner, who had also been Carolyn’s student. Carolyn almost always dines with us.

I wish Carolyn had not felt so alone. I wish she had let time catch up with her. Today she’d have been 87. It’s not, I think now, that old.

Reading the signs in Bogliasco, continued

It continues to rain and the sun remains an iffy prospect, but there have finally been signs of spring. On the passeggiata there are buds and leaves where before there were none.  It would be curmudgeonly not to feel hopeful that our last days here will be warm and sunny.


I’m still collecting love graffiti, and one of them, written on a bench along the passeggiata, finally exposes the mark of gender: “The first time I saw you, the first time I truly fell in love”…innamorata―the woman in love…and further to the right, after the declaration, “to follow”….Stay tuned.


On an excursion to another village along the coast, I spotted this classic at the bottom of a staircase: I Love You and the date. I couldn’t help wondering if the love made it to the second anniversary, which had just passed. That’s the thing about graffiti, you just can’t know whether the sentiment remains, whether to feel warm and fuzzy or sad.


And adjacent to this classic, a more playful one:


Love climbs every staircase—“sale” rhymes with “scale” in Italian….

Finally, in the town of Bogliasco, there’s a more lasting tribute to love and the winds of time inscribed on a kind of wall sculpture.


Here is emended version of the poem:

More than the Grecale

little lines
short scratches
time proceeds with you

More than the Grecale
that reinforces
and wears away cement and ornament

uncovering the stone
the white skeleton
of the wall

Grecale is the wind from the northeast. Here are the four winds in a mosaic compass by the sea..


Poetic as all that is, the question of dog poop is never far behind.

The colorful poster clearly explains what dog owners should do, but the evidence on the ground suggests that the locals do not read the writing on the wall.