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Passing Through

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—on my seventy-ninth birthday

Nobody in the widow’s household   
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 Worcester   
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.

Stanley Kunitz, “Passing Through” from Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected. Copyright © 1966, 1995 by Stanley Kunitz. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Source: Passing Through: The Later Poems New and Selected (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1995)
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Passing Through

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