“I’m Going to Have a Couple of Beers and a Banana Nut Muffin”

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.
-from “The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz

“The Layers” is a poem about survival. One way to survive is to just power through everything, but that’s not what this narrator’s up to. Here, he takes a moment to stop and consider where he’s been, how he’s changed, and what has remained the same (“some principle of being/abides, from which I struggle/not to stray”). Looking at what he’s lost, he wonders how he can live with it all, but, looking ahead, he knows how much he loves living. He is “exulting somewhat,” acknowledging that feeling of strength that can come from losing something vital but realizing that you continue even so. Then two famous lines: “Live in the layers, not on the litter.” The litter being, I presume, the dust he refers to mid-way through the poem. This voice guiding the narrator is saying, I think, that he can find strength and carry on not by ignoring the things that are gone, but by figuring out how to live surrounded by loss, how to do that while still appreciating “every stone on the road.”

And then there is the last line of the poem, most powerful: “I am not done with my changes.”

Me either, Stanley. Me either.

Today’s Poetry Friday roundup is at My Juicy Little Universe.

8 Comments

  1. Posted November 25, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    Oh, my goodness, that was beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this poet before, and now I have to read this poem over again. Wow. Thanks for sharing that.

  2. adrienne
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Oh, I’m glad to introduce you to Kunitz. He’s a favorite of mine. His “The Quarrel” is a poem that’s stuck with me through a lot of years: http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/poetry/antholog/kunitz/quarrel.htm.

  3. momster
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I saw this guy read a few times.He did some good stuff;-)

  4. Amy
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Adrienne, I loved this!! it’s so funny because just yesterday I was philosophizing about dealing with chronic pain…and I was thinking that, really, the best way to treat it is to learn how to have a good attitude about it. It’s just like you said, you have to learn to live surrounded by loss, or physical pain, or whatever it is that life has dealt you. there are no magic cures. the best any of us can do is to cope the best we can with our individual circumstances and not forget to love life. thank you for posting this!! I love your blog!!

  5. adrienne
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Momster, I never got to see him read, although when I was in college, my friends and I used to pile in cars and drive all around to see poets read. We were like a bunch of really nerdy groupies.

    Amy, I just love you. Your comparison to chronic pain just adds a whole new insight into this for me, because it’s not just loss. It’s all different kinds of pain, and you really can only live so long without being in some kind of chronic pain, whether it’s physical or psychological. I guess the question becomes whether you let that pain define you or not.

  6. Posted November 26, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    “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?”

    Wow. Yes.

  7. adrienne
    Posted November 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Ruth, It was hard to pick a spot to excerpt, because the poem feels so true to me. Those three first lines you quote there really hit me. My tribe is scattered.

    Incidentally, “There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town” is a great blog title.

  8. Posted December 2, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Perfect poem. I’m marking it as a favorite so I can go back to it again and again. Life in the layers. Yes!

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