Howardism Musings from my Awakening Dementia
My collected thoughts flamed by hubris
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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
whereever 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

Stanley Kunitz poem, The Layers

A friend of mine, who recently moved to Texas, called me up the other evening. He was bemoaning (well, moaning is too strong a word, but he was definitely musing) on the changes in his life. He was also mentioning a book that he had been reading, and how it suggested that changes in ones life should be welcomed (ushered?) in with some sort of ritual. And I guess he was really bemoaning that a ritual required a tribe.

This brought to my mind the poem (which I am conveniently providing to you on the right). Stanley Kunitz is in his mid-nineties, and still travels around to read his poetry. (Perhaps you caught an interview of him with Bill Moyers on the PBS special, Fooling With Words?)

In this poem, The Layers, he bemoans the loss of his friends who've died… his phrase is "I have made myself a tribe out of my true affections," and I thought yes, that is how tribes are … a combination of blood-relations, and heart-relations that are bonded over a common set of memories and experiences.

I'm now looking back over my tribe, and noticing that my tribe has been with me throughout all of my life changes and transformations. They've been with me when I celebrated my rituals, my rites of passage, and my changes when there was no ceremony. But sometimes, the tribal presence alone lends a certain weight of a ritual to any life change.

I've read that tribes were made out of a few families, and some others who just happened to have joined the tribe for one reason or another. I notice that I have had some members of my tribe come into my life, dance a ritual, and then move on to another tribe. And that is ok, for the next time I see them, it will have been as if they never left.

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