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Stanley Kunitz’s Poem “The Layers”

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.

 

 

Carl Sandburg’s Poem”Wilderness”

“Wilderness” by Carl Sandburg
There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.
There is a fox in me . . . a silver-gray fox . . . I sniff and guess . . . I pick things out of the wind and air . . . I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers . . . I circle and loop and double-cross.
There is a hog in me . . . a snout and a belly . . . a machinery for eating and grunting . . . a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.
There is a fish in me . . . I know I came from salt-blue water-gates . . . I scurried with shoals of herring . . . I blew waterspouts with porpoises . . . before land was . . . before the water went down . . . before Noah . . . before the first chapter of Genesis.
There is a baboon in me . . . clambering-clawed . . . dog-faced . . . yawping a galoot’s hunger . . . hairy under the armpits . . . here are the hawk-eyed hankering men . . . here are the blonde and blue-eyed women . . . here they hide curled asleep waiting . . . ready to snarl and kill . . . ready to sing and give milk . . . waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.
There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird . . . and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want . . . and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.
O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.
Carl Sandburg

From “Lessons From The Body” by Manuela Reeds

”If you grew up in western culture, you were taught to trust a reasoning mind, facts, and scientific evidence – not to listen to your body.  You probably had no lessons in school to teach you to slow down and trust your bodily sensations.  Instead, you were most likely taught to shut down, hold in your emotions, and not express what you feel.

Because you live in a culture that often does not value the sensitivity and wisdom of the body and emotions, becoming mindful is a radical act – one that requires you to stand up for your inner life.  The more you slow down and listen to your body, the more it’s messages will become direct and clear.

Mindfulness cultivates the sensitive art of deep listening.  You can remove the filters of fear, vigilance, and anticipation, and come into a direct relationship with “what is” right now.  But it takes some discernment to see clearly and not judge your experiences.”

No Small Wonder

It’s those unexpected details in life that can astonish you sometimes, like little thieves waiting for an unwary tourist around a corner.

Ants coming out two days before it rains. Burro dung holding up adobe walls for two hundred years. A hummingbird’s heart beating over a thousand beats per minute. A blue whale’s tongue weighing as much as an elephant. Humans owing their existence to pollinators, and the sun’s proximity to Earth. Trees working tirelessly while appearing impossibly still. Your body’s ability to digest food with its own consciousness. Plants turning to face the sun.  These are no small wonders.

The slant of the light at a particular moment. Steam rising from a bowl of soup. A certain smell accessing a fountain of memories in your brain: maybe cigar smoke, the interior of a car, the pages of a book, a bakery. A song opening a door inside you. Behind that door, a chapter of your life, a whole sweeping vista of memories, visions, emotions.

Naturally, all this astonishment exhausts you. But it’s a healthy exhaustion, like the one you experience after a long day of good hard physical work, or an hour of lovemaking, or an afternoon spent swimming in ocean waves. The language of being alive inhabits you completely.

You come home to a bag of ripe plums a friend left at your door. Eating one, you celebrate its wine-red flesh. One day you’ll be food for worms – maybe tomorrow, even – but for now you are here, in an astonishing world. Your whole being glows with wonder, almost child-like. You read a while, noticing the moon. You extinguish the light and close your eyes, drifting into sleep.

It’s strange, you think, how there’s no money in poetry, or bending spoons.

 

 

Dharma Wonderland

Kennedy, King and Lennon.  Public squalor, private wealth.  What is this strange country, the United States of America?  It is the dog that – when left unattended – discovers everything on the table is within reach, the pleasure and the poison, and devours both.

There are times I feel socially homeless among some of my fellow citizens.  No wonder my heart struggles to not become an old battle-axe, rust-worn shield, divided realm.

Watch out for the prison guards you yourself have employed, steer clear of the wartime radio news editors who work overtime inside your mind and never take a vacation.  Beliefs are roads to the ultimate nowhere, and are always under construction.

I wish I could get up on my soapbox all mighty and righteous, and urge us all to renounce gain and loss, pleasure and pain, but they are the characters who inhabit our landscape.  And none could exist without the other – they’re like political parties.  There is no “side” with One. You need two, or more.  Without villains, what’s the point of the existence of heroes, and vice versa?

It’s comforting to remember that beyond the horizon of all our drama there’s an ocean.  Beyond the anatomy of all our choices there’s an open sky.

Our addiction to fear has sent us careening into wonderland, and we’ve elected the queen of hearts as our president.  We’ve closed ourselves in with defibrillators, fire extinguishers, medications, and an obsession with life expectancy, youth preservation.  We are addicted to comfort, its creation, replication, perpetuation.  How do we find a way out of our house of smoke and mirrors?

It’s comforting to know we will breathe in and out until we no longer breathe in and out.  We, a passing rain, a prairie wind.

How much peace might we experience if the glowing lanterns of our hearts could learn to not be afraid to change, to flicker, to fade.  The shifting of stones can alter the course of a river’s current.

 

Pilgrimage

All day long, I see things a painter would paint. What is there to complain about? Even my own pain has been endured by thousands before me, and depicted by master sculptors.

Pilgrimage, penance, failure, learning to hold one’s self tenderly, in friendship – all these have relevance to my experience of life. Honoring the earth, or a Saint, or a God, a parent, a personal hero, the wind, rain dripping from trees.

Turning to look into one’s own heart, seeing what’s there. It is a brave thing to search your own soul. You will endure accusations of selfishness from others, and from your own mind.

We all just want a door to open and let the light in, but what if we are the door? What if we are the light?

To the world, I say I’m sorry for so many things. To the world, I also say thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

Basho’s Traveling Companion

On the jade-colored plate, yellow fruit.

Between the window and folding screen, a bed, some clothing.

In the stillness of the forest, water flowing.

On the mountainside, plum blossoms.

In the rain and mud, wild horses.

From a bowl in the hermit’s shelter, steam rising.

In the iron stove, embers glowing.

At the edge of August, all that I am.

 

 

Big Sur

A whale spouted by and I dreamt of the story my life could tell.  I remembered many loved and lost, I received the world, had a conversation with the cosmos.

A whale spouted by, the vastness deepened.  I sat, hands in lap, left over right, palms up, thumbs touching.

A whale spouted by, I smelled sagebrush.  I watched the buckwheat sway along the sea cliffs, became hungry.

A whale spouted by and I contemplated the fallen.  Standing among fallen acorns, I too am a fallen one.

A whale spouted by and I stopped searching for things.  I vowed to stop searching for a horse while riding a horse.

A whale spouted by and my fingertip touched itself.  The blade of my sword cut itself, I ate two bowls of soup.

A whale spouted by, it came and it went.  Sounds come and go.  Wind, rain, pebbles in a pool.  Time to chop onions, prepare soup again.

Dragon Gates

While drinking cold tea from a glass jar and dividing your thoughts between Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Neruda, you cut a kiwi in half the long way and consider the oval ring of black seeds at its heart.  You always see Our Lady Of Guadalupe there, proving that eating a piece of fruit can be a private ritual, an example of eco-psychology, a rite of passage, an odyssey.

It occurs to you how disposable – though indeed miraculous – your body is.  To your mind it is sacred, almost holy, containing all the memories of your life, your ancestry.  You sit there, sipping your tea, and contemplate how not-sacred your body actually is.  How it is an idea that exists only inside a human mind.

You shed the illusion, leave it behind like a shipwreck you swam ashore from, like a prince giving up all worldly pleasures to go be a hermit.  You decide to relax into Being until the time comes for you to pass into Non-being.

Finishing the kiwi fruit, it occurs to you that when life becomes too fixed – too rigid – the Trickster god comes in some form and rattles you to the bone.

Wiping your mouth on your shirt sleeve, you remember that in Hong Kong there are architects who build skyscrapers with huge holes in them “for the dragons to go through“.

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