Candlelight

Crossing the porch in the hazy dusk
to worship the moon rising
like a yellow filling-station sign
on the black horizon,

you feel the faint grit
of ants beneath your shoes,
but keep on walking
because in this world

you have to decide what
you’re willing to kill.
Saving your marriage might mean
dinner for two

by candlelight on steak
raised on pasture
chopped out of rain forest
whose absence might mean

an atmospheric thinness
fifty years from now
above the vulnerable head
of your bald grandson on vacation

as the cells of his scalp
sautéed by solar radiation
break down like suspects
under questioning.

Still you slice
the sirloin into pieces
and feed each other
on silver forks

under the approving gaze
of a waiter
whose purchased attention
and French name

are a kind of candlelight themselves,
while in the background
the fingertips of the pianist
float over the tusks

of the slaughtered elephant
without a care,
as if the elephant
had granted its permission.

 

“Candlelight” by Tony Hoagland from Donkey Gospel

 

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I found out recently that my favorite poet died. He died in October. I just found out.

Tony (can I refer to my favorite poet by his first name? I don't think he'd mind) was a frequent contributor to The Sun, a literary magazine that invites me to fall in love with humanity every month.

Sidebar: Subscribe to The Sun, please. I can't afford it either, but at this point I think of it as medicine; money is not a consideration because I need it to keep me alive.

When I get The Sun in my PO Box each month I quickly scan the Contents page to see if Tony's name is listed in the poetry section. There it was in the March issue: "A Tribute to Tony Hoagland." I gasped.

Cancer, if you're wondering.

Reading Tony Hoagland's poems felt like talking to a stranger who unexpectedly let their guard down said something devastatingly vulnerable that resonated with me so deeply that I suddenly had the urge to curl up inside them and take refuge from the rest of this questionable world.

Tony Hoagland's poems were plain and direct. He carefully observed the world and people. He recognized the ugliness and darkness in himself and others while embracing the incredible beauty of being alive on this planet right now.

Tony Hoagland made me feel okay about the paradox in my inner and outer lives because his poems highlighted his own paradoxes, and they often looked like mine.

Candlelight is a favorite. It puts words to my feelings about running a "sustainable," "green," "earth-friendly," "eco-conscious" business.

Is there such a thing in this capitalist society? Doesn't all production result in waste? All the choices I make feel compromised.

When I talk to The People Who Know About Business, they often tell me I should be capitalizing on my "greenness," more. It sells! It's all the rage! It's so on brand for Vermont!

I can't do it.

When I start to play up sustainability in a caption or item description, I start to think of all the times in the pursuit of reuse that I feel the "faint grit of ants beneath" my shoes -- the gas I use to get my old pick-up to markets and to make deliveries, the chemicals I use to clean and alter metals, the gas I use for soldering, etc etc etc ad nauseam.

I'm diverting and estimated 100-300 pounds of metal from recycling facilities each year. That's right: most of my material -- metals, steel, rubber -- is recyclable. I'm not diverting very much of it, and what I am diverting wasn't even destined for the landfill.

The revolution will not be by inner tube earrings.

The revolution will be by pressuring the hundreds of companies and the global agricultural industry for producing an estimated 81% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The revolution will come from swearing off fossil fuels and resisting conspicuous consumption altogether.

And yet, after I press "publish" on this I will go down into my studio and no doubt harm the environment in many small ways in the pursuit of making something beautiful and precious.

Because I hope that -- like my books of Tony Hoagland's poetry and the monthly issues of The Sun, printed on murdered trees with toxic inks and shipped by gas-guzzling planes and and trucks and automobiles, -- the things I make arrive in someone's mailbox and feel like medicine to cope with this dark, awesome, confusing world of ours.

 RIP Tony.

 

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You can buy his books not-on-Amazon here.