MEMOIRS IN REAL TIME by Sharon E. Ingraham




Memoirs in Real Time………………………………………………………………………………… 1

Keep your Parachute Fastened at All Times…………………………………………………….. 2

Family Phantoms……………………………………………………………………………………… 3

Birth Mother…………………………………………………………………………………………… 4

Daddy Dearest………………………………………………………………………………………… 5

From Where Did I Come…………………………………………………………………………….. 6

There Are Places I Remember……………………………………………………………………… 7

Discovering the Self in Selfish……………………………………………………………………. 8

Reveling in Siblings…………………………………………………………………………………. 9

Regrets, I’ve Not a Few…………………………………………………………………………… 10

It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over…………………………………………………………………………. 11


Memoirs in Real Time

I watch death crouching by the end
Of your bed pretending to be kneading
Your ice-cold feet and peering out beneath
Lashes shielding eyes the colour
Of hopelessness and something else
Something I don’t want to look at too
Closely so I don’t …

You move your arms as if swimming
Or maybe rowing towards God as
Sexton would have you do, only for her
It was an awful rowing – for you, I would
Hope it would be something peaceful
But the longer the night goes on
The more I suspect the creek you’re ferrying
Is likely the treacherous River Styx
And less the gentle journey we would have
Wished for you

How did these stars, each a-flame
And popping, fly in tangential arcs
Until, ending up strewn like a celestial quilt
Across your bed – I turn to ask your granddaughter
If she sees them too—she has nodded off—
I turn back and in the dimness of your room
The stars have flown off to points unknown

And you; against the dimness left behind
I see there is little of you left
I know you are close to going from us
There is nothing remaining for me to do
Just to be here with you, just to stay
I can do that much, that I can do.



Please Keep Your Seat Belt Buckled At All Times

Taking the memoir journey
has proved an unexpectedly rough road-trip
With some piercing insights rustling to the fore
and exploding with unbearable ease
From beneath a brittle crust
long constructed around my psyche

However recalling actual travels
with my family
—after circumstances necessitated the sale
of our summer cottage—
Those trips wear a patina, a charm that memory
kindly gives to the past
Sheathing those years as if protectively
Like placing fine crystal in tissue
before stowing it for safe-keeping

In a dream, I am laying beneath a weeping
willow weeping
There is a bit of a wind blowing —no—not a wind
A breeze—barely enough to move the long fronds
of the willow; I am in a fever to keep from waking
I know if I awake there will be no fixing anything
No mending the past, no use in looking ahead…
Did I mention taking the memoir journey has been
an unexpectedly rough road trip?



Family Phantoms

All my life I felt you moving from the shadowy
Depths of nothingness, a puzzle-piece, a rune
Ephemeral, fleeting – sometimes glimpsed
Or so I thought – but unknowing just who or what
It was that flitted on the periphery of my consciousness
I put it down to fanciful imaginings – what else…
Then came my daughter and she had eyes the colour
Of another age and was old, an old soul, from birth
Studying me even as she nursed and I knew then
As sure as if you had your arms around me, you were



Birth Mother

I can’t remember it, of course
But I can picture it
When I can bear to
“I relinquish all rights to this child.”
As she hands me over
She was sobbing, she tells me
I believe her.
I am screaming my six week old head off
She tells me
I believe her.



Daddy Dearest

You come to me through veiled
Dreams and I cannot make you
Out; I think I smell your aftershave
But that I truly rather doubt

Having never really known you
Every essence of you dreamt
I imagine, conjure, make you up
But waking feel you leave, as if sent

My mama says – you do remember
Her? She tells me that very likely you
Are dead, or if not, then imprisoned
You did her wrong, and did me too

She tells me that you learned of me
But that you didn’t care to know
Just shrugged me off and told her
Wishing love would never make it so

Daddy dearest I wonder, are you out there
And do you have other children that you love
Does your eldest child ever come to mind
Or am I the one you just casually disposed of



From Where Did I Come

“And now that she’s yours—your history becomes her history—that’s all you need to remember.”

~(advice given to my parents when they were given “non-identifying” info upon my adoption in the early fifties – and it turns out, this was the rule, not the exception)

I was a lucky child, one of the chosen ones
Other people had to have their babies
But I was chosen … the implication hits
Eventually—if I was somewhere waiting
To be chosen, how did I get there?
And didn’t it mean I had to be un-chosen
That is to say — left, abandoned—first?
Questions that were not to be asked then …

Years later I would seek out my birth mother
Not trying to uncover a heritage
But a medical history—something else deemed
Unimportant back in the day …

Reeling from confirming a legacy of lunacy
Wondering whether this was what I’d sought
Or was I hoping to negate the truth
I ignored most of the other information
For months, maybe even as long as a year.

When you’re trying to get un-mental
That takes up almost all your time
Validating you have inherited genes
That give you a predilection for insanity,
One you are most likely going to pass on
Can be somewhat all-consuming, plunging you
Further down the rabbit-hole then ever
You thought possible, given that you figured
You had bottomed out long ago …

By the time I rallied and became convinced
That having my mental health status authenticated
Could only be helpful, after all—the more information
I had, the more likely my health could be improved
As could my children’s, should the need ever arise—
Knowing my roots was anti-climatic to say the least

Still, my birth mother, bless her heart, was gently
Persistent—sending me “pedigree charts”—a term
I at first found offensive until I realized her brother
My birth-uncle, had done some actual genealogical
Research and this was a valid term for the findings

As I began to feel better mentally, my curiosity
Provoked—going from no roots to a family tree
Became fascinating and I started to trace the branches…

I had to hand to Children’s Aid in Ontario
They had made some effort, it seemed, to match
Me to parents with very similar ethnic backgrounds
No wonder people used to say, “Oh – I would have
known you were John’s daughter anywhere!”
We may not have shared DNA or blood
But we both had ancestors in Scotland and it seems
Mom and I each had come from a long line of Brits
Not exactly the same British folks but still …
Close enough that we shared blond hair, blue eyes
and ruddy complexions—even an affinity for plaid…

So it turns out I do hail from the British Isles
My love of the pipes maybe does run through my blood
I am curious to visit where my actual ancestors
Lay beneath sod and see if I feel anything familial
About the place, and the people there
I recently learned I lost an uncle at Dieppe
And have been studying that history a little more now

My birth mother originally tried to provide me with
Information about my birth father and from time to time
I toy with the idea of searching for him even though
He would have to be quite old by now—when first I met
Her, I asked where she thought I might start looking for him…
Since her thoughtful suggestions were, “prison” or “a cemetery”
I didn’t feel too encouraged to look … that could be, as the kids
are fond of saying “TMI”.



There Are Places I Remember…

Hear a few notes from an old song and I’m right back
There—wherever there is—our cottage in the Kawartha Lakes
If the music’s from the 60’s, or maybe just down the street
Playing with friends and my brother at the Scarborough Bluffs
The scent of wildflowers, golden-rod, poplars, birch
All bring Ontario back to me, as do the richest colours of Autumn
We get mostly golds here in the west, nothing but the yellow palette
So come September I often find myself yearning for the blaze of red
That maples serve up and gorgeous carnelians, burnt sienna, true orange
The varieties of coral that only oaks can give us …
But casting back I find myself more and more hanging around cottages
Or tree-houses, the shooting range behind my cousin’s cabin
Where we went to become sharp-shooters and smoke cigarettes
The Slop-Shop across from my high-school where the Hell’s Angels faced off
With the Vagabonds and where I was strictly forbidden from entering …
Of course, it was particularly enticing – it had a great juke-box –
But even I stopped going once there was an actual shoot-out there …
Then the massive dump down Brimley Road,
A place of untold treasures and rats the size of jack-rabbits, and another no-no
So of course, we snuck there every chance we got … and stayed long hours
So many places tumble through my mind—but it’s the ones
Especially taboo that stick with me, the ones that bothered my parents most
That make me smile, fill my memory bank with enchanted thoughts …
Perhaps it’s not surprising my mother went prematurely grey, my dad bald …



Discovering the Self in Selfish

In less than three days you can:
Ride the rails across a country
as wide as a continent
And stay awake for most of it!

Constantly marveling
at where you live
And how you aren’t having
a throw-down with
Your traveling companion.

You can also be brazen enough
To read your poetry aloud
In a cafe you’ve never before entered
And in front of a group who are
As diverse as fingerprints

Who are also, as it happens,
Judging you
At least some of them,
In the style of Olympic
Figure-skating judges,
Especially the Russian one
Who always seems to leave room
Which is why it’s best never to go first

In less than seventy-two
short hours you can:
Be reunited with a dear friend,
And walk with her
in the inky dark
Beneath a waning white
globe of a moon
All the way downtown
and back—safely.

You can also have
several meaningful conversations
With your dear friend’s philosophically
and politically attuned soul mate
Plus his enchanting partner and friend,
another talented artist

Not to mention observe
their two delightful daughters
Maturing right before
your aging eyes
You can share pictures
of your daughter’s wedding
And give a set of prints
from that remarkable
“North Saskatchewan” day to dear friend
So that she will have memories
to hold in her hand as well as her heart

You can haunt many scenes
of your childhood
And wonder at how unchanged
most things appear
As well as revisit bad habits—
at least briefly
Smoke the odd cigarette—
speed in the rental car,
With seeming competence,
albeit reckless abandon
But without actual mania—
At least that’s what you tell yourself,
and hope it’s true

You can finally make copies of your
most recent published work
Assemble for presentation,
feel good about that,
And leave same behind
as thank-you gifts
In addition, you can pig-out
on Hostess cupcakes
and your Aunt’s homemade brownies
even though you promised her
and yourself you’d share…

Although it screws
up your schedule,
you can take time
for a long, hot, self-indulgent bath
in a huge claw-footed tub
And, go online, go online, go online

Plus journal, write poetry,
read, repeat
Listen to “Fall Out Boy”
especially, “This Ain’t a Scene”
And other cool nano songs…

In less than three days,
you can
Discover your selfish self
is a person
Not all that unlikable
Vow to stay in touch
And mean it.



Reveling in Siblings

Remembering the one I grew with to adulthood
The one I loved who no longer breathes
I realized this is the brother I need to write about
It doesn’t matter that I have found my blood
Siblings; it never will, they are nice people and I am
Not sorry I did the search especially that I found
My birth mother; she was a piece to my puzzle
That I really needed to find and I will stay connected
With her the rest of our lives – this I know
But my siblings – we share little but DNA and while
There is some inherent value in that – literally –
There are no memories …
The year my brother died … I wrote a month of small stones
For him in a Winter’s River of Small Stones … here are some of them …

~In Memory of WJH

Wishing things were different
Gets wearying and I know
Makes no difference whatsoever
Still, when the wind whips the lake
To a froth, and sighs through the trees
I cannot help remembering you
And then I yearn again

~Road- Trips, Not Necessarily trips

Remember the night you had me try acid?
First you asked me, then tried to convince me
Then snuck some in my coffee – joke was on you
A whole night of having to just about sit on me
So I didn’t try and fly off my balcony
Scared you straight at least, it was your last trip too

~Running on Empty

Rutted roads everywhere
Cars crashing all over
Remember that time at the lake?
We thought we were going to die
Black ice and Black Tower
Don’t mix …

~Last Night I Dreamt You

Last night I dreamt you
Alive; we were sitting here
Talking as if we had never
Not talked, and things were
Right between us …
When I awoke, my pillow was damp

~Deep Woods Dweller

At the end of the trail,
they told me
far from civilized life
There they’d find you,
bonfire blazing; coffee perking
as if you knew—
Company was coming

~On My Day of Days

I see you, awkward in your suit
But pleased to be included
You told me later how surreal
You found the whole thing
Me too, I gasped, laughing
Did you think it would last?

~Your Song

Coming around the point
Mom and I could hear you singing
Even above the brrr of the outboard
“Johnny get angry, Johnny get mad …”
Every day around suppertime
Just as the sun was starting to slide
Into the lake – you came back to us.


Your license, class one
I hear you were pretty proud
Of keeping it up; I can imagine
We had that in common
The love of driving large vehicles.

~Your Twenty-Two

Did you know I gave your gun away?
Did you know I wanted it myself?
Would that have surprised you?
I bet not; you know how much
I like to shoot, not kill, just shoot
It didn’t surprise me to learn you didn’t
Like to hunt after all … just had a gun
It seems …

~Relevance of Relatedness

You weren’t really related though, right?
That’s what this guy said to me when he learned
Of your death, as if the fact of our unconnected
Bloodlines would somehow make my grief
More bearable, your loss, less important
His words hurt me like carelessly thrown
Shards of glass, like grenades, like hate-speech


Winter’s wind’s particularly harsh
I awake wondering how you
Bore living so far outside
Town, beside the tracks
A train whistle blows lonely
ashes dust the creek
carry your soul to sea

~Stones and Water for You

Every day for a month
I have set down words for you
Taken time to think about you
Beyond my usual template for grief
And found such sweet sorrow
And welcome release
In this simple act of remembrance



Regrets? I’ve Not a Few

Maybe it was growing up with someone who worried
About everything – how: it, we, they, she – looked
were, went, was – you name it, she worried about it
Still does to a certain extent, I guess, but of course
I’m past the point of noticing and besides, I grew
To a place where, “I don’t care” or “It doesn’t matter”
Became the mantras of my life, the words that saved
Me time to time, until nothing much did matter
And the mantra was no longer life-saving but a chant
That blocked out all else, numbing me to everything
Good, bad, or indifferent—never mind the sleepiness,
—an actual undiagnosed disorder—
that pervaded every facet of my life for years …

As a wise person in my life is fond of saying, he doesn’t
Regret or worry about things he can’t change because
What’s the sense of that? Life is too short to spend time
Wasting it on things you know you can’t do anything about

It took him a long time but eventually he convinced me
Of the wisdom of this philosophy and I adopted it for my own
Why indeed have a litany of woulda, shoulda, couldas?

I am not getting any younger (neither is he, he reminds me)
Let’s make some better memories – then reminds me
Of quite a few good ones we have already – asks me if there
Is really much I would change – he knows there’s not

Laughs with me when I ask him if he thinks I’ve been too candid
In this memoir series I’m taking part in – he keeps up somewhat
Wonders ruefully if I’m joking, reminds me of certain poems,
The odd interview granted – I take his point – too late for regret
On that front – he shakes his head as always, tells me once more
It’s my story to tell and he likes the way I’m telling it …




“It’s never too late to become what you might have been.”
George Eliot

It was a rough week in many ways – a big defeat snatched
From the jaws of victory was how it felt for a bit but she knew
Finally, she was a survivor, she would get over it – nobody was hurt
Nobody died and the embarrassment was not the humiliating
Experience she had anticipated so she shelved it and went on

It occurred to her she really had no last words as yet and no
Real “in my defense” words either, she realized that what she had
Was a list of sorts – had had this list for as long as she could remember
She supposed it was a bucket list maybe but she had been keeping
Her list long before bucket lists were fashionable and she added to it
And crossed things off as time went on but it was a pretty interesting
List – at least, to her it was – and since it was her list, that was all that mattered

Without saying which things have been penciled
out and which remain,
These are a few of
the many desires
on the list,
in no particular order:
Become a queen, touch a killer
meet James Bond,
drive a race car,
Live with a wolf,
become a horse-woman,
stay in a castle, get hit-
on by a famous singer
… and refuse
Meet a Middle East
peace maker, dance
in a glass
live in a studio
in Paris,

Organize a peace
march, be interrogated
by foreign authorities
but not arrested,
own a day
Drive a big
rig, become a sharp
sing in a massed
choir, become
a model,
Fly in a hot-
air balloon, learn to fly
visit the place
where poets go
to die
but live,
Win a major
poetry prize,
model for an
art class,
fly in a Sikorski,
spend a night
in Penn Station …

And on and on …
the list goes …
she hopes her list
will continue
and that she’ll become
The fates, time
and her own
persistence permits …
she knows,
however it goes,
life is good.


23 thoughts on “MEMOIRS IN REAL TIME by Sharon E. Ingraham

  1. Pingback: MEMOIRS IN REAL TIME by Sharon E. Ingraham | POETIC BLOOMINGS

    • Thanks so much Hannah … it was good of you to take the time to come read and comment; I know you’ve been finding it hard to fit everything in lately. I’m glad we share the same poetic spaces.

  2. Sharon, I really loved reading these poems, especially for their excellent word choices and emotional impact.

  3. Sharon- This is so beautiful and touching… especially the small stones about your brother… I remember when that happened. I’m not sure how I missed you were adopted, no chosen. You are so special. I also like Discovering the Self in Selfish. Love you, my friend!

  4. My last visit before I head to bed, and my head and heart are now very full. Sharon, this is a bravely tackled, endearing, haunting, heart-wrenching, and altogether gorgeous collection of pieces of gorgeous you. You are a strong, admirable woman. I’m so glad you became a poet. But of COURSE you would.

    Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us.

    Marie Elena

    • Marie Elena – you always know exactly what to say – and say it! That’s very special…thank you so much for your generous spirit, insightful words, and unflagging encouragement…I’m glad you are a writer and a poet. The world’s the richer for it. Sharon

  5. Oh, Sharon, what an amazing journey! Poignant & heartfelt — and a few hitting too close to home — especially “Memoirs in Real Time”, and some of your brother’s small stones (“Last Night I Dreamt You”, “On My Day of Days”, “Relevance of Relatedness”). It IS your story to tell… and you do it so well. Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Thank you Pamela…it has been an amazing journey and continues to be one…you’re another one of the poets I feel I’ve known forever, and I appreciate it every time you read my poetry; your comments are always insightful and from the heart, and I look forward to receiving them. So thanks again for taking the time to read and comment — it means so much.

  7. Hi Sharon,
    I feel I know you tho we will probably never meet. Your poetry is very moving, I cried when I read the “Small Stones” series about your brother…I have done the Jan.. Small Stones & enjoyed participating in Fiona’s (can’t spell her new name) projects. Ontario is just across the lake from us. When I was young, it was possible to see North Bass & Pelee from Marblehead. Too much pollution today.

  8. Marian – you are very sweet … it’s funny … I hesitated to put the small stones about my brother in because a lot of people that post here, I thought had read them, but several of the poets commenting were moved by those stones so, you never know…And you never know if we’ll meet. My husband and I keep talking about touring the states to see all my virtual poet friends (he’s very keen to do it; I’m the lazy stick-in-the-mud)…Thanks again for coming to read and your thoughtful words; I do appreciate them.

  9. This is a second read-through. Your writing has an ethereal quality to me. It touches down in real life but has such beauty it is hard for me to know what to say. Your first poem was so descriptive it seemed I was there at that death bed with you.

    Write on.

  10. Thank you sheryl … the first poem is the one most recently written and came about very naturally right after my Mother died on Boxing Day … I’m glad it was able to bring you there. I appreciate you taking the time both to read so thoroughly and to comment so kindly.

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