vitya (11/06/1961 – 6/16/2005) // how shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?

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And so, Vitya, I’m still mad at you for leaving us. I’m not quite sure how to make sense of it still, nine years later. Even Nasreddin doesn’t necessarily believe that we choose when we die, but I feel sure that on some level we do. And I just don’t get how you chose that. But I suppose it’s beside the point. You’re still here with us when I conjure you, still not quite understanding my grief.

I saw Tamburlaine last weekend in Brooklyn, a dramatic 16th-Century British take on your Amir Timur. It was amazing, and precisely the sort of thing I assumed we’d see when you visited us in New York. But you didn’t make it. I reread your memorial and I miss you. The Turkish emperor in the play bashed his head against the cage Timur locked him in rather than continue on in captivity. Yeah. A cage.

I guess I’m mad, Vitya, because you got it. You were one of the few who got it and worked on getting it and some unfair part of me feels you turned away from that. Was it too much for you? I don’t know the full scale of what happened in Moscow or even Uzbekistan. I have only what you gave me and it was enough, and too dear.

But you didn’t get that. Only now I realize to what scale you didn’t take in how much you were loved by so many. It forever makes me sad you thought I looked down on you and my stories about you were condescending. Teasing, yes, but playfully so.

We’ve lost you. In some ways, I suppose, you were the understanding, caring, protective brother that my own brothers weren’t, or weren’t able to be. I felt safe and respected with you in a way I can’t really explain, or even why it matters. I guess it’s just the whole unfinishedness of it. Maybe I will write your beautiful daughter about it, she who visits us in new york in your stead. I’ve wanted to explain, and I’m sure she wonders. I can say so much more now than I was able then, Viktor. I wish I could share that with you.

The Layers
By Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.