Oct. 20, 2008


by Tony Hoagland

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

"Candlelight" by Tony Hoagland from Donkey Gospel. © Graywolf Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet Robert Pinsky, (books by this author) born in Long Branch, New Jersey (1940). Robert Pinsky said, "The longer I live, the more I see there's something about reciting rhythmical words aloud — it's almost biological — that comforts and enlivens human beings."

It's the birthday of the poet Arthur Rimbaud, (books by this author) born in Charleville, France (1854). He wrote, "But, truly, I have wept too much! The Dawns are heartbreaking. Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter." He came to epitomize the Decadent Movement, in which poets and writers celebrated artifice in their works.

His mother was a devout Catholic and strict disciplinarian. She hovered over him as he did his homework, and she walked him back and forth to school well into his teenage years. Rimbaud was a gifted and brilliant student. He published his first poem when he was 15, and he began leading a poetic life. He ran off to Paris, where he spent two weeks living homeless and hungry, roaming the streets.

Rimbaud ended up back in his hometown of Charleville, where he passed his days in cafés and taverns, ungroomed, telling dirty jokes to anyone who would buy him a drink. In a letter to a friend, he said that in order to achieve transcendence and poetic vision, a poet must subject himself to "long, intimidating, immense and rational derangement of all the senses," as well as "every form of love, of suffering, of madness."

He sent some of his poems to the poet Paul Verlaine, who was so impressed with the 16-year-old Rimbaud that he sent the boy a one-way ticket to Paris to visit him. The teenage Rimbaud and the married Verlaine soon became lovers, which scandalized the established literary scene in Paris. The two were inseparable for a year or so, and then, in 1872, they got in an argument, and Verlaine fired a few gun shots, one of which hit Rimbaud in the wrist. The police arrested Verlaine, and Rimbaud was forced to testify. The trial was humiliating, and Rimbaud disappeared from public life. He wrote one more book, called A Season in Hell (1873), and then at the age of 20, his literary career came to a close.

He spent the remainder of his life traveling around the world. He served in the Dutch Colonial Army in Indonesia, he worked construction in Cyprus, and he was a merchant in Ethiopia. He died of cancer at the age of 37.

He said, "Genius is the recovery of childhood at will."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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