Once, I would make certain my name
did not appear in any directory. Now
I dream I am back in different times and places,
and the people I remember I loved
are not there, and the places not at all
as they were, and it is as if I have belonged
to some underground organization
set up to allow no member
to betray another – no member ever
knowing who his associates actually are.
Now I agree to be listed, I ask to be listed –
and hope that this will make it easy to find me.
And now I dream of a list. On it
everything I and those I have been with
have ever truly felt or done is recorded
in the clearest detail. In the same dream
is a man who walks alongside me and knows
nothing but the entire list by heart,
and will recite it to the moment I die,
and then he too will disappear.
Notes on the PoemThe 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize judges noted that the poems of Russell Thornton's The Hundred Lives have attributes that make them "at once timeless and contemporary ..." The poem "A List" is a good example confirming that perceptive observation. In two ten-line stanzas, Thornton's narrator crisply delineates a dilemma he struggles with regarding his privacy and connection to others. In the first stanza, he claims he does not want to be listed or identified as belonging to any kind of association: "Once, I would make certain my name did not appear in any directory." The timelessness of this declaration, as he makes explicit with "Now I dream I am back in different times and places" means that association could be anything from a primitive clan or "some underground organization" of any era to a printed telephone book, a documentation of association that is also rapidly growing outdated. The tone of the poem is less whimsical, but it evokes the same sentiment as the oft-quoted Groucho Marx contention "I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member." In the second stanza, the narrator has reversed his feelings from the first stanza, and he wants to be listed, catalogued and easy to find. "And now I dream of a list. On it everything I and those I have been with have ever truly felt or done is recorded in the clearest detail." Thornton's narrator's dream could be of any kind of list, of course, just as his grievance of the first stanza can be of any time in human history when someone did not want to part of a group, tribe or affiliation. How hauntingly accurate, though, is this as a description of how we all interact now on Facebook and other forms of social media? How startlingly contemporary is that?