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I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that
I lived just the length of it.
I want to have lived the wits of it as well.
Diane Ackerman
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Poems on Passing
CANDLES



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.


Carl Dennis
from New and Selected Poems 1974-2004. Penguin Books, 2007
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Poems on Passings & Partings
After Reading T'ao Ch'ing
The Argument
Aubade
For My (Grand) Daughter
Philosophy
The Pond at Dusk
Preparations for a Parting
To Luck
What's in My Journal
Kindness
Three Songs at the End
Meadowbrook Nursing Home
Let Evening Come
Exercise
No Children, No Pets
Doctors
Choice of Diseases
When Death Comes
Becoming
Remember When
The Blue Blanket
Boat on the River
Candles
Sun and Moon
Remember When [another]
Forgiveness
In November
Thinking about the Past
Taking Down the Tree