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.