The Layers

I heard a beautiful reading of this Stanley Kunitz’ poem by Michael Lerner over at

The Layers – Stanley Kunitz

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.jpg

11 thoughts on “The Layers

  1. I loved the image of scavenger angels hovering over abandoned camp sites. It evokes the feeling of our past being cleaned up and healed as we journey, suggesting that even the sites we may not have left so tidy are reclaimed by Love, and that this reclaiming is continuous and immediate. To accept the presence of such a beautiful force at work in Creation seems to suggest it is okay to set down old worries and cares… that we do not and perhaps cannot ‘fix’ everything as we go. It is okay. What we lacked the wherewithal to dissolve or transmute at the time is reclaimed. We can continue our journey, and whatever has been, every place we have visited was sacred, as the angels hover there…



  2. Don

    Beautiful poem Debra. These words, “How shall the heart be reconciled
    to its feast of losses?” up to “yet I turn, I turn, exulting somewhat, with my will intact to go wherever I need to go,” just do something to me. Certain relationships I had to let go of. It was easy, but somehow they couldn’t enter that place where I was going. Not easy.


    1. Hi Don,
      Yes, it’s such a profoundly human poem, full of the angst, suffering and beauty. But most of all speaks to me of the slipperyness of identity as we move through our lives.

      I am glad it spoke to you too.


Your comments welcome here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.