Assembling Memories

In the third poem of Conditions (1986), Essex Hemphill, one of the voices of African American gay DC, closes his memories of loving a church man, with

With what the seasons leave

I assemble memory.

… I didn’t know then

what I was seeing

until now —

Just as Essex assembles his memories of an earlier love for later understanding, those who chronicle the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer experience in the United States are assembling memories for later understanding.

There’s no telling, like the speaker in Hemphill’s poem says, what it will all later mean, this assembly of the seasons’ leavings. There’s no telling what others will later find useful or important. Not being able to judge future relevance or significance gives greater importance to the completeness and accuracy of the assembled memories.

For those of us who assemble community memories, our task is to make the collections comprehensive, accurate and detailed .


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