Living in the layers


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.

Stanley Kunitz


How shall my heart be reconciled to its feat of losses? I am walking towards it, even as I walk in the other direction, choosing distraction over the coming grief.

Those who fell along the way are rising up to greet me, their names and faces clear to me as the house I grew up in. Even as they smile I can see them weeping for what they have lost. Go back to your life, they say, and live it, live it!

The manic dust of my friends is with me at all times, a different kind of grief and yet part of it, a grief I need to answer to, one I only answer with my own.

As I roam through the wreckage I am overcome by a new thing, is it anger, this man who did what, who said what, who dares to go on living without knowing about my grief?

The next chapter in my book of transformations is already here. What shall I call it? Shall I go back to my life and live it, even as I grieve?


with thanks to Natalie Jabbar at Live in the Layers


  1. So painful, so beautiful – ‘The Layers’. Thank you for posting it. It takes so much courage to live a life; any life. And we find so often only the fear. Poetry though often shows if not the way, at least glimpses of the way.


  2. Those lines, “live in the layers, not on the litter” are intriguing. I’m not sure what their meaning is and what the nimbus voiced cloud is saying to me through them. It seems to challenge me to embrace the seams that make our lives rather than the fall out, encouraging us to live more slowly and deeply. Great poem. Thanks for posting it.


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