Poets & Writers

A Poet a Day: Stanley Kunitz

"Touch Me"

A Poet a Day: Stanley Kunitz

During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.” Enjoy.

Today we remember and celebrate the poetry of Stanley Kunitz. Former poet laureate Stanley Kunitz’s poem “Touch Me” is a universal plea for connection, even more poignant in this time of the corona virus.

People stood and cheered when Stanley Kunitz was introduced at the Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey. We were there to film the event and I have never forgotten the hurrahs ricocheting around the huge tent and the sound of four thousand clapping hands overwhelming the patter of rain on the canvas roof. It was 1999. Stanley was 94. The child of a dressmaker from Lithuania. Graduate of Harvard. Soldier in World War II. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Medal of Arts. Poet Laureate of the United States. In a rational world, I told myself, as he reached the lectern and the audience stood in a tumult of applause, he would be TIME Magazine’s Man of the Century. Through a discordant era of furious conflict and change, his voice – the poet’s voice – spoke to what Lincoln himself called “the mystic chords of memory.”

— Bill Moyers

“Touch Me”

Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love

and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it’s done.

So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

Watch this full episode from Fooling With Words.

See all poets in the A Poet a Day Collection.