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Resource 5 The Layers by Stanley Kunitz

“The Layers”. Copyright (C) 1978 by Stanley Kunitz, from THE COLLECTED POEMS by Stanley Kunitz. Used by permission of W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.

Stanley Kunitz was a 20th/21st- century American poet, named American Poet Laureate in 2000.

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 campsites

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 sting 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 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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