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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 …

Who’s messing around with the rough edges of my life?

Whose sinewy hands tweak my brokenness?

Who forces me to feel my shards and claim them?

Whose fingers pull and knead, pull and knead?

More pinches, slaps, punches startle me.

Take me where I never dreamt sojourn.

Patting smooths my new shape.

A wet towel cools me.

Then explosion—

Like toddlers, jumping piles of reddening leaves.

Expanding-resting-expanding-resting.

What am I becoming?

More pulling and kneading.

Will this never end?

Yet this touch coaxes surrender.

A song releases mine, long hidden beneath barrels of stale flour.

Change continues:

More shifting from here to there.

My pregnant shape swallows my fears.

More waiting follows.

Suddenly, my belly is cleaved and braided together.

Brushed with egg yoke, I wink at the sun.

The brick oven’s fire evokes more transformation.

It’s happened–the aromatic new creation.

Above me a shawled woman blesses candles,

chants psalms to the Challah I have become,

offers me to be torn apart and consumed by her loved ones.

Within my new brokenness, I am whole.

In today’s quiet, I returned to the lyrics of the protest song, Sounds of Silence (1964), its symbols pin-pricking the Alice-in-Wonderland world shapeshifting around its composer Paul Simon. Then, it was the war in Vietnam, with nightly footage of its atrocities numbing many viewers into powerlessness, voicelessness. Something was very wrong in our world. Switching channels helped.-

In my perception, Sounds of Silence still evokes shudders and speaks to our country’s splintering beneath heaps of social, political, and economic disorders. Morals no longer work; in their place, the bastardization of language.

The protest song opens with the imprint of a powerful dream upon the narrator that commands its communication to

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

And at a later disaster was heard: “Just keep them quiet,” said one of the terrorists on the phone recovered from the debris of United flight 93.

The lyrics continue as if echoing Yahweh’s pleas in the Psalms:  

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence

The warning was given. Yet, with passing years, even more trivia has dulled imaginations, stoked hot pursuit of substances, and atrophied psyches—even evolving into monster-like-minions of

 the neon god they made

The timeliness of conversion of heart has never been so urgent—it can be done.

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