Candles by Carl Dennis

If on your grandmother’s birthday you burn a candle   
To honor her memory, you might think of burning an extra   
To honor the memory of someone who never met her,   
A man who may have come to the town she lived in   
Looking for work and never found it.   
Picture him taking a stroll one morning,   
After a month of grief with the want ads,   
To refresh himself in the park before moving on.   
Suppose he notices on the gravel path the shards   
Of a green glass bottle that your grandmother,   
Then still a girl, will be destined to step on   
When she wanders barefoot away from her school picnic   
If he doesn’t stoop down and scoop the mess up   
With the want-ad section and carry it to a trash can.   

For you to burn a candle for him   
You needn’t suppose the cut would be a deep one,   
Just deep enough to keep her at home   
The night of the hay ride when she meets Helen,   
Who is soon to become her dearest friend,   
Whose brother George, thirty years later,   
Helps your grandfather with a loan so his shoe store   
Doesn’t go under in the Great Depression   
And his son, your father, is able to stay in school   
Where his love of learning is fanned into flames,   
A love he labors, later, to kindle in you.   

How grateful you are for your father’s efforts   
Is shown by the candles you’ve burned for him.   
But today, for a change, why not a candle   
For the man whose name is unknown to you?   
Take a moment to wonder whether he died at home   
With friends and family or alone on the road,   
On the look-out for no one to sit at his bedside   
And hold his hand, the very hand   
It’s time for you to imagine holding.

Candles

The first time I read this poem, I felt as if someone had told my story, not all of it but the first part, the part my mother told to me. About how as a young girl in the 1920s a man came to their door one day looking for work, asking for food. My grandmother made him a thick ham sandwich which he ate on the porch with a glass of milk while she gave him directions to the Ford Motor Company not far away where he might ask for work. My mother knew nothing more of this story but it stirred a curiosity in me – whatever became of this wandering man?

Suppose someone in your family could trace their history back to a simple event such as this, a small kindness that led to an apparently random series of events – a friendship, a marriage, a loan, an education that works its way to you, to your life.

As the poet says, why not light a candle for the man whose name is unknown to you and to wonder how his life unfolded, whether he died at home with family and friends or alone on the road. Can you imagine this person you have never met, imagine holding his or her hand, whispering thank you, wondering how different your life might have been without this unknown person.

For whom might you light a candle now?

Sometimes by Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail.
Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war,
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best intentions do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.

Sometimes

Apparently, the poet Pugh now disclaims this poem, originally written about a sportsman with a drug problem, expressing her hope that he would get over it, because it has since been misunderstood as simplistic optimism for the world in general. Nevertheless, in this week after the week of high anxiety and bated breath, it seemed to me to speak to the idea that in fact, sometimes things do work out.

She gives examples of how things can go right, from muscadel / faces down frost through to what people are capable of, becoming what they were born for. There is genuine and realistic optimism in her belief that Sometimes our best intentions do not go / amiss. For surely that can be true, especially when there is great effort behind it.

I especially like the line The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow / that seemed hard frozen. Whether that be the literal sun in our universe or the warmth of the kindness of others, our grief which can feel solid and immovable, can be softened. As the poet says, may it happen for you, because sometimes things don’t go, after all, / from bad to worse. Sometimes they really do get better.

In Any Event by Dorianne Laux

If we are fractured
we are fractured
like stars
bred to shine
in every direction,
through any dimension,
billions of years
since and hence.

I shall not lament
the human, not yet.
There is something
more to come, our hearts
a gold mine
not yet plumbed,
an uncharted sea.

Nothing is gone forever.
If we came from dust
and will return to dust
then we can find our way
into anything.

What we are capable of
is not yet known,
and I praise us now,
in advance.

In Any Event

From the first word, Laux proposes if we are fractured, questioning the truth of this. But if it is true she assures us, we are fractured / like stars; stars which were created to shine in all directions, dimensions and through time without end, filling the night sky – bred to shine.

She is not yet willing to lament / the human because she believes we are more than we appear – our hearts / a gold mine / not yet plumbed / an uncharted sea. She has a deep trust that our hearts are a source of wealth not yet measured or tested; we are unmapped oceans. We are not limited by our brokenness.

Dust to dust – if this is true she is saying, then we can find our way / into anything. We don’t even know yet what we are capable of and so she says I praise us now, now before we even try to define what that might be. That last statement to me is more than just hopefulness. By saying in advance, Laux is saying with unwavering certainty that this is true – she has trust, faith in our humanity.

May we all shine like stars and together create a greater light.