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Excitement thrummed my imagination as I paged through the sleek book, The Wild Braid (2007) written by the centenarian Stanley Kunitz and his associate, Genine Lentine. It turned out to be a book to savor, not to read.

As author, professor, and translator, as Poet Laureate Consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, he has influenced many. His poetic voice reveals an intimate knowledge of words that opens listeners and readers to Life’s interior, replete with mystery and hardships. Paradoxically, his acute sensitivity to multiple setbacks advanced his craft, together with his dream work as influenced by Dr. Carl G. Jung’s depth psychology.

The poet’s second passion was gardening, and for over forty years, he cultivated his seaside garden at his Provincetown, Massachusetts, summer home that he shared with his wife Elise, also an artist. There, with muddied hands, he was just at home as in his basement cell—with nothing to distract him—searching for that elusive word for his next poem.

 The Wild Braid, his final publication, consists of a collage of essays and poems comparing these two passions and how they had shaped his life. Its concluding chapters barely contain Kunitz’s voice, made transparent by revelations gleaned during a close encounter with the Dark Angel, his term for death, two years before his actual last breath.

Perhaps some of the blurred photos of the centenarian in his garden speak to his still-to-be completed transition: he was here and not here.

He taught me much …

This morning, a preacher proclaimed on AM radio, “Change is inevitable. At times, Life demands it.”

His words seared themselves upon my awareness and blocked out the remainder of his text. Yes, I mused, he was speaking to me. I blinked hard, pulled myself up in my armchair, and flipped off the radio. His use of the verb, demand, stung where it needed to sting and left a gaping hole: Within, writhed glistening snakes of resistance that leered at me.

So wedded to my daily self-care routine for months, I could not imagine more diminishment that would impinge upon my functioning. That occurred with yesterday’s bout of food poisoning and the experience of a new level of sinking weakness. Slowly introducing soft foods has helped, somewhat.

But the power of the preacher’s words also caved in my denial of weight loss and daily walks and use of the NuStep at the YMCA. I thought I could fix these changes by eating bowls of ice cream at bedtime; it had worked in 1982 and 2012—No matter that sugars and dairy had triggered joint inflammations.

So it’s all about accepting the unacceptable: the physical death of my body. The preacher’s words, “Life demands it.” still goads this process over which I have no control. Resistance is futile. The only way out is through each twenty-four hours allotted me by God’s will. I’ve no other recourse. It is working …

At 7:10 A. M., I awoke with this shocking dream:

I’m alone, watching a horrifying scene: a bald nude unconscious man, with pasty skin, lays on the ground surrounded by enemies, their steel-toed boots kicking him. One of them covered his privates with a rag when a cameraman came by and began taping. 

This dream from the collective unconscious still shivers my innards—more visceral than accounts of Nazi and Soviet torture that I’ve studied over the years. Even the morning spent at Germany’s Dachau concentration camp was tamed by the sense of it being a tourist attraction, with informative signage.

Stunned, I still shudder. Long ago, I learned that the Dreamer tells the truth: hatred, anger, and penchant to retaliate—even with violence—behaviors I would never own in the conscious world, hide within the shadow of my psyche.

But such behaviors come with being human. Following the collapse of inner restraints, instinctual madness zings through dripping caves like bats: their mayhem terrifies. We all have breaking points, and I have mine, whether expressed or not.

The concentrated negative/evil energies, all masculine, also suggest the collapse of my own, in the face of my mortality, given the minuscule increase in my symptoms, from month to month. No longer is it appropriate to remain passive, unconscious like the victim. I am still breathing and the Twelve Steps of CPA are still to be practiced.

The antidote to this insanity is found in Step One: humble acceptance of my powerlessness and the acceptance of the unacceptable; then on to the cleansing and forgiving Steps, with Higher Power’s release of noxious energies and restoration to wholeness, until the next time.

It takes daily practice…

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