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Three By Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006)

February 20, 2012

Stanley Kunitz

Stanley Kunitz was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He attended Harvard, then worked as a reporter and editor. After military service, he taught at Bennington College, The New School, and Columbia University, among other institutions. His poetry books include Intellectual Things (1930), Passport to the War (1944), Selected Poems, 1928-1958 (1958, Pulitzer Prize), The Testing-Tree (1971), The Terrible Threshold: Selected Poems, 1940-70 (1974), The Coat without a Seam: Sixty Poems, 1930-1972 (1974), The Lincoln Relics (1978), The Wellfleet Whale and Companion Poems (1983), Next-to-Last Things (1985), Passing Through (1995, National Rook Award), and The Collected Poems (2000). Among his honors were Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, the Lenore Marshall Award, the Bollingen Prize, the National Medal of Arts, the Shelley Memorial Award, and the Frost Medal. Stanley Kunitz served as Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress from 1974 to 1976 and as U.S. poet laureate in 2000 and 2001. He died in New York City.

Father and Son

Now in the suburbs and the falling light
I followed him, and now down sandy road
Whiter than bone-dust, through the sweet
Curdle of fields, where the plums
Dropped with their load of ripeness, one by one.
Mile after mile I followed, with skimming feet,
After the secret master of my blood,
Him, steeped in the odor of ponds, whose indomitable love
Kept me in chains. Strode years; stretched into bird;
Raced through the sleeping country where I was young,
The silence unrolling before me as I came,
The night nailed like an orange to my brow.

How should I tell him my fable and the fears,
How bridge the chasm in a casual tone,
Saying, “The house, the stucco one you built,
We lost. Sister married and went from home,
And nothing comes back, it’s strange, from where she goes.
I lived on a hill that had too many rooms:
Light we could make, but not enough of warmth,
And when the light failed, I climbed under the hill.
The papers are delivered every day;
I am alone and never shed a tear.”

At the water’s edge, where the smothering ferns lifted
Their arms, “Father!” I cried, “Return! You know
The way. I’ll wipe the mudstains from your clothers
No trace, I promise, will remain. Instruct
Your son, whirling between two wars,
In the Gemara of your gentleness,
For I would be a child to those who mourn
And brother to the foundlings of the field
And friend of innocence and all bright eyes.
O teach me how to work and keep me kind.”

Among the turtles and the lilies he turned to me
The white ignorant hollow of his face.

The Portrait

My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.

Touch Me

Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love.
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,

I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only, 
                                    and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

 

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