Monday, April 13, 2009

the acorn of a poem planted

Upon Recalling An Evening With Stanley Kunitz And His Wife

At dinner,
twenty- some years ago,
in a Manhattan eatery
with the poet Stanley Kunitz
and his strange and lovely wife,

You look like a Native American,
where is your family from?

She asked, taking my hand in hers.

Earlier that evening,
after shooting part of a documentary
on her famous husband in their small walk-up,
Mr. Kunitz offered me a tall tumbler of straight vodka
and his glass in an emblematic toast to the moment.
With one eye over the lip of my own, looking for a cue
to the etiquette of a ritual he had engaged in with all manner
of famous men and women in this humble kitchen galley way,
decade after decade upon the very floorboards beneath my feet,
I followed the great old poet's lead and continued tipping
glass to lip, the white light bare bulb burning overhead,
the white hot distilled spirits burning my throat,
singeing sinus cavities on their way to where
poetry lies in ephemeral pools of inspiration
waiting for release even all these years on.

North Dakota.

I replied, her other hand atop mine now,
Mrs. Kunitz' gypsy eyes locked in a trance
with my own, dull brown and drunk punched.

I knew it Stanley, I knew it. We are dining with an Indian.

Stanley, distracted by the sudden appearance of the waiter,
offered a half-nod before motioning for a round of drinks
with a wave of his weather-veined, liver-spotted hand.

Vodka, straight-up, all the way around.

Mrs. Kunitz squeezing my hand,

Tell me all about North Dakota, dear.

The night devolving into a fog of family histories
and anecdotes from a Nobel Prize winning poet
and his mistress-cum-Mrs.-cum-muse whose hand's
slightness I can still recall sitting here years later
reading The Testing Tree, 'native-blood' stirred by

Once I owned the key
to an umbrageous trail
thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
gave me right of passage
as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massasoit
soundlessly heel-and-toe
practicing my Indian walk.*

*excerpt from Stanley Kunitz' poem The Testing Tree

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