Gone, but Not Forgotten

What’s in My Journal

by William Stafford

Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Thing, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can’t find them. Someone’s terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine.

“What’s In My Journal” by William Stafford, from Crossing Unmarked Snow © Harper Collins, 1981.

This poem by William Stafford would welcome our class on the first day we returned from winter break in January. By that time, my students and I had been journaling together since our first day in September although we called it a “writer’s notebook” or a “commonplace book.” Yes, I know they aren’t interchangeable, but the spirit behind them is similar: to chronicle a life.

On one of our summer trips from New Jersey to Oregon, my son Sam was maybe eight, we decided to spend a glorious sunny day in Portland before driving to our final destination, the Oregon Coast. I wanted Sam to see some of my favorite childhood haunts and that included Macleay Park, the Lower trail.

(photo Wikimedia Commons)

When we had claimed our rental car at the airport, the agent warned us about the recent rash of car thefts targeting rental vehicle. I registered what he said, but in that cavalier way of a native returning home. My mind was fixed on wooing my son with west coast wonder. It was only after we’d returned to our parked car in the wooded lot, the beauty of a day spent among trees and birds and unfamiliar terrain buoying our spirits, that I noticed the sign the front bumper kissed, the warning clear: make sure all cars are locked and valuables secured.

I had taken my wallet, a stroke of luck, but everything from the car had been stolen. Stunned, I stood there chiding myself. Nothing remained, and then I heard Sam’s small voice at my elbow, “Mommy, my journal’s gone.” Along with clothes, and an electronic game that had gotten him through the cross-country flight, a wetsuit for braving the Pacific, Sam had lost his journal.

Clothes and games, the other items that as the trip unfolded we realized we’d lost, could be replaced, but the “agreeable,” amenable stories and drawings of his young life so far were gone. I bought a replacement journal, its crisp blank pages begging for attention, but Sam experienced in the concrete: “Pages you know exist/ but you can’t find them” —what we all know as we return to the pages we’ve written that show us who we are, warts and all, the “terribly inevitable life’s story,” that those words, those moments, are in the wind.

When the Isolation Journals prompt for yesterday asks to “Write a journal entry about why you journal,” I remember that day, and all the writing days that have followed for the both of us as we continue to live and to record.