Katie Helms and Robbi Nester

Katie Helms

My Memory Palace
By Robbi Nester
Inspiration piece

The ancients found remembering was simple

if they built in memory a place to stash

each name or fact. I have no need

of this old tactic. The building rose itself,

no mere mnemonic, without my effort

or my will, needing no intention on my part

to make it stand, secluded, a palace

or a prison on a street not quite the one I knew.


For years, I wore the windows watching out,

aspiring to the world beyond this

faded square of sky, though sometimes

it might hint at nascent drama:

coiled green hose a lurking

mamba. And there, the borders

of a country yet  to be discovered:

the spot I scratched into the wallpaper

beside my bed, hoping if I made it

big enough I could climb through, like

the children in the books I read,

entering another world.



The clothes hang still, waiting forever

to be worn. And there, my mother’s vanity,

where I  would sit and gaze into the glass

trying on her earrings  and her pearls, her

broad-shouldered jackets, inspecting

photographs of relatives I’d never meet,


all this spreads before me, each room

multiplied in memory, a sheaf of dining rooms;

the living room in all its incarnations.

Here, the French provincial sideboard, gift

of a wealthy relative, rules the room;

and now, eclipsed–an avalanche of envelopes

encroaches. And now the roaches

and the rats, the bags of trash I helped to clear away.


No people walk these rooms; no conversations

can be heard. Harsh words and gentle ones

do not endure. Only the doors and windows

where I walk in dream and reverie

fan out like drafts, an intricate origami I could

never fathom.  Now that these walls

are someone else’s legacy, I can never leave.