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