Happy Birthday, Stanley

Today would be the 104th Birthday of Stanley Kunitz, the poet who wrote “The Layers,” the namesake of my humble little blog here. He died in 2006 at the age of 100. Check out this beautiful Op Art tribute from the New York Times.

In the reflections that open up The Collected Poems, Kunitz wrote:

Years ago I came to the realization that the most poignant of all lyric tensions stems from the awareness that we are living and dying at once. To embrace such knowledge and yet to remain compassionate and whole–that is the consummation of the endeavor of art.

(AP Photo/Tina Fineberg) via http://www.syracuse.com/blogs/
(AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)

And now, for a poem he wrote on the occasion of his 79th birthday, 25 years ago.

“Passing Through”–Stanley Kunitz

Nobody in the widow’s household
ever celebrated anniversaries.
In the secrecy of my room
I would not admit I cared
that my friends were given parties.
Before I left town for school
my birthday went up in smoke
in a fire at City Hall that gutted
the Department of Vital Statistics.
If it weren’t for a census report
of a five-year-old White Male
sharing my mother’s address
at the Green Street tenement in Worcester
I’d have no documentary proof
that I exist. You are the first,
my dear, to bully me
into these festive occasions.
Sometimes, you say, I wear
an abstracted look that drives you
up the wall, as though it signified
distress or disaffection.
Don’t take it so to heart.
Maybe I enjoy not-being as much
as being who I am. Maybe
it’s time for me to practice
growing old. The way I look
at it, I’m passing through a phase:
gradually I’m changing to a word.
Whatever you choose to claim
of me is always yours;
nothing is truly mine
except my name. I only
borrowed this dust.

You belong to another time

Walking down Valencia Street in San Francisco today on the way to lunch, I noticed a cat sitting in the window of what looked to be a defunct junk shop of sorts. At first I thought the cat was simply another piece of abandoned decoration–a tacky excuse for taxidermy nestled in between a refrigerator, a coil burner, and a miniature, light-up Christmas tree. But lo and behold, this darling creature was a living, breathing feline. If I had nine lives, I wouldn’t mind inhabiting a window for awhile, either.


“To A Cat”–Jorge Luis Borges

Mirrors are not more silent

nor the creeping dawn more secretive;
in the moonlight, you are that panther
we catch sight of from afar.

By the inexplicable workings of a divine law,
we look for you in vain;
More remote, even, than the Ganges or the setting sun,
yours is the solitude, yours the secret.
Your haunch allows the lingering
caress of my hand. You have accepted,
since that long forgotten past,
the love of the distrustful hand.
You belong to another time. You are lord
of a place bounded like a dream.

San Francisco International Poetry Festival

Palace of Fine Arts, photo courtesy Life Magazine
Palace of Fine Arts, photo courtesy Life Magazine

If you’re going to be in the San Francisco Bay Area this weekend and love poetry as much as I do (or are ready to fall in love with it for the first time), check out the International Poetry Festival. All of the events which range from street parties to readings to crawls are listed here.

I traveled to the festival two years ago and got to enjoy Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading at Cafe Trieste before heading over the the Palace of Fine Arts where I saw 10 or so poets from around the world read in their original languages (with translation projected in the back). There’s something so indescribly powerful about poets coming together in one space to celebrate the written and spoken word. Come tomorrow, you can find me once again at the Palace of Fine Arts, where an awesome line-up of poets, including Ferlinghetti, will be reading.

La calle se llenó de tomates

Today I return to this digital scrapbook of mine. There’s so much to say but sleep beckons, so tonight, I offer an image from this morning’s farmer’s market: a lovely heart-shaped tomato that caught my eye and reminded me of a poem by Pablo Neruda, master of the ode.

The street filled with tomatoes midday

Sidenote:  After I took this picture, I watched a tiny, craggy woman, circa 80-90 years old, dancing in a beautiful, helter skelter zigag to the tunes of the morning’s live musician. No one else was dancing. I caught up to her later and told her how much I enjoyed her moves. We walked together for a moment, sharing our wish that people be less inhibited, that people just get up and groove. “Thank you for making me smile,” I told her before we parted ways. She looked up at me, grinned, and blew me a kiss.

Tomatoes and plucky old ladies. There are so many reasons to fall in love with this crazy world every day.

Ode to Tomatoes-Pablo Neruda

The street
filled with tomatoes
light is
its juice
through the streets.
In December,
the tomato
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
into living flesh,
a cool
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
its flag,
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
at the door,
it’s time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth,
and fertile
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.