Stanley Kunitz (2011) Passing Through. Methodist DeBakey Cardiovascular Journal: April 2011, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 51-51.
ever celebrated anniversaries.
In the secrecy of my room
I would not admit I cared
that my friends were given parties.
Before I left town for school
my birthday went up in smoke
in a fire at City Hall that gutted
the Department of Vital Statistics.
If it weren’t for a census report
of a five-year-old White Male
sharing my mother’s address
at the Green Street tenement in
I’d have no documentary proof
that I exist. You are the first,
my dear, to bully me
into these festive occasions.
Sometimes, you say, I wear
an abstracted look that drives you
up the wall, as though it signified
distress or disaffection.
Don’t take it so to heart.
Maybe I enjoy not-being as much
as being who I am. Maybe
it’s time for me to practice
growing old. The way I look
at it, I’m passing through a phase:
gradually I’m changing to a word.
Whatever you choose to claim
of me is always yours;
nothing is truly mine
except my name. I only
borrowed this dust.
— on my seventy-ninth birthday
Stanley Kunitz was born in Worchester, Massachusetts in 1905 and graduated from Harvard College, summa cum laude. In his long and distinguished career as a poet, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize. He served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the forerunner of the post of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress — commonly referred to as the poet laureate of the United States. He died in 2006.
Reprinted from The Collected Poems by Stanley Kunitz. Copyright ©2000 by Stanley Kunitz. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.