Tuesday, July 29, 2008

happy birthday, stanley

I'm not a big fan of quoting things in a post without making comments of my own. Anything I might post I probably found somewhere else online and is easily available to anyone. But I saw at the Writer's Alamanac that today is Stanley Kunitz' birthday. He would have been 103. He lived to be 100; he hasn't been gone long. I met him several years ago at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival (which I wish I could get to again this year). His most popular poem, I suppose, is called "The Layers." I have come back to it again and again because it has much to say to me. Tonight, I offer it without further comment as my birthday gift to a great poet.

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written,
I am not done with my changes.


Mim said...

HI Milton,
I have a question for you.. I wrote today about my noticing upon returning to US about labels americans seem to use. What bothers me a lot is the label of 'right-wing evangelical Christian' as if a liberal or democratic Christian is not a real Christian. Just wanted your take on what has happened in american and why all the polarizing.Particularly in the Christian world. I see you come from a Baptist background and are not part of the UCC congregation.
Thanks! Love your blog.

Joy said...

Wow - thanks. I'd not heard this before even though I live its reality daily. I couldn't avoid connecting with the message, because it's the essence of living--my life in words, in the layers.

Thanks, Milton!