the layers

I recently revisited a favorite poem of mine, “The Layers,” by Stanley Kunitz. It made me reflect on the past few months — the layers of the breast cancer experience. As readers we are urged to “live in the layers not on the litter.” I suppose it takes a bit of courage to open oneself to delve into our own personal layers or into the layers of life experiences and come away as a changed individual. What does this poem mean to you? Are you someone who lives in the layers or on the litter? Do you resist or welcome change?

The Layers

by 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.

3 thoughts on “the layers

  1. terry meyers says:

    Dear Debbie,

    I love that poem too and find it very meaningful. Am glad that you have been so successful negotiating this health problem. Way to go!!


    On Thu, 29 Nov 2012 21:56:27 +0000

  2. Diana says:

    Ahhhh, Stanley Kunitz…what a poet he was! Thank you for posting this. You are a survivor who never has lain in the litter that I know of!! Keep up the good work and good thoughts.

  3. annetta muska says:

    Oh Deb, This poem is VERY deep Some of it did speak to me but on the long run I struggled

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