Live in the layers

The Layers

by Stanley Kunitz

English: Rocky Layers The rock here is in laye...
English: Rocky Layers The rock here is in layers of varying thickness. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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,

Slow Fire
Slow Fire (Photo credit: pepemczolz)

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?


WALKERS IN DUST STORM – NARA – 544315 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,

Red Flowers on a Cobble Stone Road
Red Flowers on a Cobble Stone Road (Photo credit: Striking Photography by Bo Insogna)

and every stone on the road
precious to me.

Covered Moon
Covered Moon (Photo credit: jonesing1)

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,

Sun and layered nimbus clouds at dusk from the air
Sun and layered nimbus clouds at dusk from the air (Photo credit: Bill Liao)

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.

“The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz from The Collected Poems.

Kunitz autograph
Kunitz autograph (Photo credit: milkfish)

I heard this poem a few years ago on Writer’s Almanac on NPR.  It means something different to me now than it did when I first heard it.  The images speak to me very clearly right now as I am contemplating the changes this coming year will bring (moving to a new city, see earlier blog post “Excited and Scared.”)

Our lives have layers.  We can’t just sit on top.  We need to be IN the layers of our lives, not just sift through the litter (the losses, the dust, the ashes).

I do feel compelled to look back so that I can gather strength for the journey ahead.  I found myself at a physical place from my past on the very day this big decision had to be made.  I drew immense comfort and courage from being there.  I was surprised by the feeling, in fact, when I realized what was happening.  I hadn’t realized that place was such a source for me.

My “principle of being abides” even though changes swirl around me like a coming dust storm.  I am turning “with my will intact to go wherever I need to go.

As Stanley so wisely said in this haunting poem,

“no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.”


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I am a pianist, musician, music teacher, choir director, mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin, sister-in-law, friend, neighbor. I enjoy music (of course!), quilting, sewing, beading, traveling, kayaking, camping, biking, hiking, gardening, knitting, scrapbooking, cooking, reading, poetry, drinking good coffee, and having fun with family and friends. NOTE -- Creative Commons License: All work of The Tromp Queen (quirkyjazz, aka Jill) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 Unported License.

6 thoughts on “Live in the layers”

  1. A wonderful poem, this is. :o) Thank-you for sharing your epiphany about place. “Some principle of being abides…” I think so, too. And you are one of the most coolest people to abide, ever.

  2. This is truly lovely — and the photos you used to illustrate the poem are perfect. I have had several lives as well…and we are preparing this new cottage for yet another move. Excited, yet sad! The hardest part I face is the myriad of details that tend to overwhelm me, so that i lose sight of the bigger, more important call on our lives. Blessings to you as you face and embrace this change.

    1. Thank you so much for your words of encouragement and support. I used the built-in photo finder here. I had a LOT of problems and issues getting things (words and photos) to line up correctly in the published version, though. I would have it looking the way I wanted it to be in the visual mode, but then when I previewed the post things would be in oddly different places. You’ve been at this blog business longer than I so I was wondering if you had any tips for me regarding this issue?

      1. Unfortunately No! I spent so much time trying to get stuff to line up in my last post, I almost gave up! I generally try to post photos in text mode though — they seem to be easier to move around and go more where I want them. I’ve actually started trying to learn a little HTML (very little) so I can get photos where I want them. Your next post looks good too!

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