Stanley Kunitz is one of my favorite poets. He was seventy three years young when he wrote his poem The Layers. He died in 2006 at the age of one hundred and one years. The poem itself is a masterpiece of storytelling about transformations and because of his mastery of the art, it needs no deciphering.
I thought of his line “Live in the layers, not on the litter” the other day as I was cutting an onion. The onion replicates itself over and over creating its various layers. The last layer it creates is its skin. The part we cut off and discard to get to the other layers. It creates this last layer to protect the other layers from drying out. Our skin, the largest organ of a human body starts development at the beginning of the second trimester or fourth month in comparison. The onion lives through all of its layers from the inside out before making its final layer or skin. When the final layer is made, the onion stops growing. It has lived through all the layers and transformations of its life and now closes the door.
Perhaps this is a strange thing to think about while cutting an onion. On the other hand it makes perfect sense. The last skin of the onion is the litter, the part I discard. The onion does not live in the litter. It lives in all of its other layers. It would be easy to live life on its surface, in the litter, but I like to live life from its core! I want to experience it with all my senses. I have had many transformations in my life. I do not know if I have many left, but unlike the onion, I am not ready to close the door just yet. Neither, I suspect, was Stanley Kunitz when he wrote his poem.