Travels to the Valley of Lost Things

by Mary K. O’Melveny

Winner, Slippery Elm Prize in Poetry

It is said all missing things
might end up on the moon—
the royal battle gear of kings,
lesser leavings too—cups and spoons,
missing teeth or spectacles, slings
and arrows of heartbreak strewn
about like poetry fragments, ill-fated
once they left a lover unpersuaded.

My best friend’s mind flew to pieces
like Orlando Furioso’s. Flying
in a fiery chariot to that orbed precipice,
I became Astolfo. I sought clarifying
memories I hoped might well free us
both if we retrieved their edifying
truths. I feared they would be hidden
on the moon’s dark side—forbidden

fruit for searchers who would rather
snatch up bits of sound, pretend they mean
something more than random blather.
If thoughts were stones, it seems
heft alone might assist a gatherer
bent on carrying home some gleam
of truth. Like a necklace breaking,
her cognition scattered to ground. Raking

thoughts back up like so many grains
of sand proved too difficult, despite
my zeal. It seems what is lost remains
so. Even my struggles with hindsight,
scattered throughout these lunar domains,
yielded little. I wanted to ignite
those flames of recollection needed
to return to lucid orbits that preceded

her collapsing persona. My intended
quest is doomed even on this landscape
rich with absent details. Nothing my friend did
or said can be unearthed in any shape
or form here. At last, I apprehended
how hope fades out. While I groped and gaped
at cerebral debris, even moonlight
had disappeared from her line of sight.


*Orlando Furioso was the hero of an epic poem by
Ludovio Ariosto, first published in 1516. Orlando, one
of Charlemagne’s knights, goes mad when the woman he
loves betrays him. Another knight, Astolpho, flies to the
moon—where it is said all missing things can be found—
in search of Orlando’s wits. In the original poem, Orlando’s
wits are recovered. Five hundred years later, no cure has
been found for dementia.

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