Wye Switches

At the back of a cupboard, I found a tightly-sealed plastic container on which I’d written “Spearmint 2001.” Would mint collected and dried more than a decade earlier still taste fresh? It would. I’m drinking mint tea with honey as I write.

If I was hoping for a Proustian madeliene experience, though, it didn’t happen. Mint is mint, regardless of whether it was gathered within (I think) weeks of 9/11. Still, it’s melancholy to sit outside and drink it on a cloudless day and think about all that’s happened since that cloudless morning in early September ten and a half years ago. I remember how lonely and isolated I felt in the weeks that followed, opposing an invasion that almost everyone else, even good liberals, supported. Everything could’ve been so different, maybe.

Just imagine if we’d waited for the Taliban government, then on friendly terms with the U.S. administration, to examine our evidence and extradite Bin Laden, rather than opting for a supposedly therapeutic orgy of violence. Imagine if we’d been allowed to have a real conversation about why we were so hated in the Middle East. Imagine if instead of war, torture and indefinite detentions, we’d opted for peace, forgiveness and support of true grassroots organizations throughout the Middle East — the Arab Spring might’ve come years earlier. Imagine if Americans didn’t insist on clinging to the romantic fantasy that problems can be solved through violence. Imagine if, as a certain book alleged, we could really solve problems by sitting down together and sharing cups of tea.


A couple of days ago, in the process of linking to Stanley Kunitz, I was reminded that he had been the U.S. poet laureate at the time. That seemed especially hard to believe — that it’s been so many years now, and that he’s been dead since 2006. He lived so long, it seemed impossible that we would ever be without his wise, often prophetic voice.

I have a very clear memory of driving home from somewhere with my hiking friend Lucy in March 2001 and hearing an interview with Kunitz come on the radio. I’m not sure where we walked that day, but I do remember where we were driving at the time: a place called Wye Switches in Duncansville, Pennsylvania. He read two poems, “The Layers” and “Day of Foreboding,” which reads in its entirety:

Great events are about to happen.
I have seen migratory birds
in unprecedented numbers
descend on the coastal plain,
picking the margins clean.
My bones are a family in their tent
huddled over a small fire
waiting for the uncertain signal
to resume the long march.

Unfortunately, NPR’s audio archive for that episode is in Real format, which most people won’t have the software to listen to anymore. But a more recent reading on NPR from 2005, in celebration of Kunitz’ 100th birthday, is even more wonderful. Take a listen to him reading “The Long Boat”:

Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn’t matter
which way was home;
as if he didn’t know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.

I think I’ll brew another cup of tea.

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