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That Was When They Remembered Our Sweet Oblivion

Matthew Salesses




Salesses rips apart both form and language and weaves from the scraps a feverish dream, a macabre looking-glass into the basic workings of the human animal.



Ours was an island of epidemics. Our latest epidemic was short-term memory loss. We didn't remember anything after the day of the first outbreak. We had to note down this realization in order to realize it again moments later. We got word to the outside world; yet as we waited for the outside world’s doctors we got instead sad tourists who, after a bout of suffering, came to catch the disease and stay.


We, the citizens of the Island of Epidemics—we ticked off our calendars each morning, we carried notepads and mirrors so we knew what we were doing and whether we were taking care of ourselves—didn’t want all these happily empty people who kept reminding themselves they were sad. Our island grew overcrowded. You can imagine the xenophobia that struck us always anew. Some of us got together, and writing ourselves notes, stopped all incoming planes. A message was shouted over loudspeakers and radio and television that everyone we didn’t recognize should be forced to leave. Each time we heard the announcement we rounded up the unremembered, but then we (and they) forgot what we were doing, but then we heard it again and pushed them closer to waiting boats. We got most of the unremembered back to the places they did not remember but would. They were a determined bunch to get up each morning and remind themselves why they should stay here, away from the disasters they didn’t recall.


Maybe they didn’t really realize what was happening until they were home and desperate to return. And that was when they remembered our sweet oblivion, when they remembered everything. Maybe we were jealous of how much it mattered to them to forget. But when the next epidemic spread and the epidemic of memory loss faded, they must have been jealous of us. Jealous partly that our diseases were ephemeral and shared and would pass if we chose to leave. And jealous that none of us ever left.  






The above painting is by Ernest Williamson III and titled "Moments and the Stage." Summer Associate, Allison Malecha describes the logic of this JUXTAPOSITION: "The thing that drew the connection between these two pieces was the the body as a passive vessel. In Salesses's writing, the people of the Island of Epidemics are static forms that have epidemics continuously pass through their bodies and consume them. In this visual piece, the body is acting in a similar, transparent thing, where the strokes of color and space flow through them. All the while, they passively look down and brace themselves for these forces."


Matthew Salesses holds an MFA from Emerson, where he is the retiring editor of Redivider. He is the author of a chapbook, We Will Take What We Can Get, and stories in or soon to be in Glimmer Train, Witness, American Short Fiction, The Literary Review, Pleiades, Mid-American Review, and elsewhere.


A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure. - Henry David Thoreau


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