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Live in 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.

-Stanley Kunitz

(photo taken at Melk Abbey, Austria)

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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4 Responses

  1. “Live in the layers, not in the litter” – how beautiful is that?! Laure’s note of your selecting layers vertical not horizontal is very thought provoking….

    Your journey reflections are wonderful.

  2. Christine,
    What beautiful, honest words…and such a perfect matching photo. I had an interesting experience reading “The Layers”…I could hear your voice, talking of your many lives, particularly the many layers that you have examined on your “voyage.” Then I heard my own, speaking the same words. I guess we all live with those “layers,” though some of us seem to find much more fascination in them than others.
    I liked your description of being a “process person.” Sometimes I am surprised that those who knew me “then” can recognize me “now” but, as in Kunitz words, “some principle of being abides.”

    Deep, rich stuff….XO and thanks to you, Christine!

  3. these are hope-filled words, christine. in my own living, i want to linger more and better in the ‘in-between’ places … inside all the layers. i am such a process person! there are so many important images in Kunitz’s poem that affirm my humanness and journey. i think i’ll light a bonfire and camp out a bit with his gift. and what i so appreciate about the image you have selected for this post is that the layers are vertical not horizontal. once again i am thinking of the spiral and how its landscape is directionally diverse. with my pencil at the ready … i am daring to connect some dots! every stone is precious … every stone.