Living in the Layers

I’m in a melancholy yet resolute mood. There are many reasons, but I’ll cite missing Sam, rereading Jonathan Livingston Seagull last night, and hearing a bit of an NPR story on the death of Stanley Kunitz, including a recording of him reading from his poem, The Layers (emphasis added).
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.

5 thoughts on “Living in the Layers”

  1. Layers are life. Examining those layers, learning from them, exploring what they have to offer, what others’ layers are about…that’s life.
    I’m damn sure not done exploring or adding to my own layers. Don’t plan to be done for a hell of a long time.
    ps…hi Stephanie…it’s Roberta. I love your blog.

  2. “Don’t plan to be done….” I’ve been heavily into diction lately (!), so “plan” leapt out at me. Does one “plan” to be done with exploring the layers of life and living?
    Something I’ve been increasingly aware of, is that I did seem to have a “plan” – or at least an expectation, that there was some kind of Arrival Point at which certain things would become unproblematic. I was convinced there was a Destination somewhere else, beyond where I happened to be, and doggone it I wanted to be There!
    This kind of attitude or outlook on life screws up just about everything.
    I’m not sure if I was standing on the litter or trying to flee it. I’ve sought to live “in the layers” for what seems like a long, long time but I’ve gone about it clumsily (my mom once told me not to wear high heels because I walk like an elephant).
    ‘Cause other folk may not be so eager to be there. Or they might have their own way of going about it. It’s vulnerable in there! Risky! I’ve always been prone to plunge, figuring that things would work out. Well, some of those plunges haven’t gone over so well and the consequences have not been fun.
    “…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.”

  3. i dont think anyone should ever be done changing.. reading your blogs the last 2 days have me reciting 2 different passages in my head, both from the indigo girls, who can say what i think about how we’re always changing far better than i can right now. i wasnt going to share them until i read your comment to roberta. here:
    from galileo: How long till my soul gets it right
    Can any human being ever reach that kind of light
    I call on the resting soul of galileo
    King of night vision, king of insight
    How long till my soul gets it right
    Can any human being ever reach the highest light
    Except for galileo God rest his soul
    (except for the resting soul of galileo)
    King of night vision, king of insight
    (i skipped some of the best parts of this song, so if you dont know it, find it!)
    and
    from closer to fine:
    I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
    I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
    Theres more than one answer to these questions
    Pointing me in a crooked line
    And the less I seek my source for some definitive
    (the less I seek my source)
    The closer I am to fine

  4. I LOVE the Indigo Girls! ­čÖé I know those songs very well. (That album is one I often sign to/for myself when no one is looking.)
    Part of the deal with change is that if it’s REAL change then it moves us from what we’ve known into something new, something we don’t know. That may seem obvious (!), but what comes along with that is unpredictability. The willingness or desire to change doesn’t mean things are going to turn out the way one wants; it’s not a bargain one controls. Change is a current one chooses to ride, wherever it may take you.

  5. Hi Steph,
    Would it be possible to get your personal e-mail address? I feel what I hope you maybe able to help with is not something I care to discuss on a blog. I am Uncle Sam’s niece, Herman’s daughter, and met Sam for the first time in 1996. I was sorry that I didn’t get to know him sooner as I found him to be quite a character. I really would appreciate an address from you and hopefully you’ll be able to help me. It is very important.
    Thank you,
    Carol Achziger/Hosford

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