Snuffing the Night Candles

People talking about the phases of the silvery moon,

the Peter Pan brightness beckoning in the stars—

I haven’t seen a distant sun in months,

and the fairy tales have shimmered away.

No celestial pin pricks in the darkened cyclorama,

no blazes from back in a time before my tiny self

tried to sparkle into existence. I live in

a perfect night, bundled beneath the

suffocation of cloudy particles

and blankets, an empty visibility

stretching into periphery

and over the horizon.

People love a little star shine.

I don’t know what happened

to me. I’m anchor-chained on this stark lake

of arrogance and folly, a slow lapping without

the benevolence of illumination

and godsend.

A child wishes

on the first one she sees, lovers wish

on the fallen—I have no blessed light

to witness. Something cheerlessly cast out

has happened here. What America

coughs up to heaven

might be what happened. Of course

I want answers. I pray someone

has the heart

to wish for the future,

for me.

Podcast Episode 12: “The Loss of the Moon” and “Snuffing the Night Candles”

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Thank you very much for listening.

Hi everyone, my name is Catherine Rockwood, I’m a staff member at Reckoning Magazine, and today I’ll be reading and discussing two poems from issue six: “The Loss of the Moon,” by Ken Poyner, and “Snuffing the Night Candles,” by Scott T. Hutchison. Ken Poyner’s poem is already up and free to read at, in case you want to follow along or go back to re-read it. Scott T. Hutchison’s “Snuffing the Night Candles” will be released on the website on May 8th. These poems speak so effectively to each other, and to the work of the magazine, that we decided to discuss them in the same episode.

I think probably the way this will work best is if I read you the poems first and then add some thoughts afterward. So, here goes, starting with author bios.

[Bios below.]

“The Loss of the Moon” by Ken Poyner

[“Snuffing the Night Candles” by Scott T. Hutchison will be available to read for free online on May 8th and in print on July 1st; if you’d rather not wait, get the ebook now.]

So, after listening to them, you probably have some thoughts about these poems: and the different levels of immediacy they bring to a shared consciousness of being present in a time of loss. “Snuffing the Night Candles” is more abstracted, its narrator’s depiction of his own experience more constrained by a sense of personal isolation, though the poem reaches out at the end for something I’ll talk more about in a minute.

In Ken Poyner’s poem, the narrator is always thinking about making it back home to his wife—temporarily isolated, but striving for connection. His habitual yet threatened return to his own home and partner is connected in the poem to the recurrence or return of things we depend on in the natural world: the changeful yet reliable moon, the changing yet predictable tides. So when the bottom falls out of all of it, in the poem, it’s a huge shock. It feels personal, as it’s meant to. “The Loss of the Moon” is so effective, I think, partly because it activates for the reader a lifetime of sense-memories of watching the moon from a moving car, or a moving vehicle of some kind. And in that scenario, you can’t fully keep track of what’s in the night sky, because your visual orientation changes all the time. The moon goes behind trees, you go behind a hill, there’s a truck—etc. But, we learn to live with this (mostly)—kids don’t like it, at first, but they get used to it: they (we) get to the point of yes, there’s the moon, (wow, the moon!) and I’m in a car again, and even if that means sometimes I can’t see her, I trust she’ll recur eventually.

Until she fucking doesn’t. Until it turns out her visual instability of presence, which we had accommodated ourselves to by constructing a faith in the eternal return of the moon, was a symptom of something that could really happen—we could really lose the moon. And I think Ken Poyner’s poem accesses, in a way many readers can understand partly through childhood sense-memories, the deep distress of trying to multitask your way through such a terrifying realization: which is, of course, also a realization about losing other things we had thought to be eternal, like the tides, the seasons, a functional biosphere; like the oceans’ thermohaline circulation system, and everything that depends on these things, including but not limited to ourselves.

Reckoning Magazine was created to make a space where readers and authors can come together in that moment of realization, and know we are not alone in it: that we can continue together as we work out next steps. So this was definitely a poem we responded to immediately, and we are so glad Ken sent it our way – and yours.

Scott T. Hutchison’s poem, “Snuffing the Night Candles,” has a clear thematic relation to Poyner’s poem through its focus on the night sky, but is wrapped further, deeper, in layers of an alienated, despairing self. I wonder, personally, if there’s a reference to Milton’s Paradise Lost in the lines “I’m anchor-chained on this stark lake/of arrogance and folly.” It could be just a really sad angry way of talking about taking a little boat out on a lake at night, when there’s heavy cloud-cover and the stars and moon can’t be seen: and casting your anchor and drifting for a while—unable to break out of your own heavy thoughts about the future. But poets are tricky, and like allusion, so this recalls, for me, Satan in book One of Paradise Lost, “chained on the burning lake,” a victim of his own overreach. The allusion is strengthened but also complicated and expanded by these lines in the last stanza of Hutchison’s poem:

…Something cheerlessly cast out
has happened here. What America
coughs up to heaven
might be what happened.

There’s been a Fall, like Satan’s—a casting out from a state where joy, cheer, health of many different kinds, can be accessed. And in a fascinating inversion of the Miltonic original (I’m just going to say I’m strongly attached to the idea that there’s a Miltonic original), evil has actually sort of ascended into the sky from the world instead of plummeting from heaven to hell—what is “cast out” and changes all cheer, or joy, is what “America/coughs up”. Anyone working on, or even aware of, global greenhouse gas emission-levels doesn’t have to work too hard to translate that content.

I wouldn’t say Hutchison’s poem leaves us in particularly awesome fettle, as readers. But one of the many things that makes “Snuffing the Night Candles” a poem we were moved to read, and wanted to include in the magazine, is its concluding gesture toward a community that may intercede for the poet in his “perfect night” and “wish for the future,/for [him.]” I think we can. We must wish, and work, for it.