The Layers

THE LAYERS, acrylic on canvas, 14×11

IN HONOR of Worcester native Stanley Kunitz, one of our greatest poets, born on this day in 1905. He died in 2006 at the age of 100.

“The Layers” is one of my favorite poems. I had not read it recently until now, but for many years I considered it my personal anthem.

I did not paint the painting with the poem in mind, and I did not know the date of Kunitz’s birth until I looked it up.

But when I went to name the painting, its somber mood and structure reminded me of “The Layer’s” themes of persistence and understanding gained through the prism of loss.

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.

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