Saturday, August 13, 2011

Birthday Poem

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

Stanley Kunitz, "The Layers" from The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz. Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Paris and Books

There was one day in Paris when Susan and I took the longest walk, starting where we were staying, on Rue Cler, crossing the Seine on Pont l'Alma, angling up Rue Montaigne and intersecting Champs Elysees, strolling the Tuileries all the way to the Louvre, crossing back on Pont Royal basically threading the needle between the far reaches of the Louvre on the Right Bank and the Musee d'Orsay on the left, proceeding up Rue du Bac (a favorite street during our stay), then bending into the Jardin du Luxembourg, across to the Pantheon, down to Shakespeare and Co. on the river across from Notre Dame. We crossed onto Ile St Louis, and dipped into Le Marais for ice cream which we ate on the bridge, Pont Louis Philippe. From there we contemplated finding Hemingway and Hadley's place on Rue Cardinal Lemoine, which we could see from the bridge receding into the Latin Quarter. A Moveable Feast traced the route. In that book Hemingway, conscious of the fact that he was remembering first hand from the 1950's his days in Paris during the Lost Generation years, that famous literary heyday from back when writers earnestly engaged themselves in writing what we called then "books" (see wikipedia for a definition and an illustration) -- conscious as he was of how one day we would romanticize the literary Paris of the '20's because the romance of writing and books would nosedive, he took special care to write not only the ethereal spirit of Paris but the physical place itself, the beauty and vitality of the streets, of the people, of the language. I have to say, the beauty and vitality have survived.