What Light Destroys

By Andrew Hudgins b. 1951 Andrew Hudgins
Today I’m thinking of St. Paul—St. Paul,   
who orders us, Be perfect. He could have said,   
Touch your elbow to your ears, except
that if you broke your arm, then snapped your neck,   
you might could manage it. The death inside   
the flawed hard currency of what we touch   
bamboozles us, existing only for that flaw,   
that deathward plunge that’s locked inside all form,   
till what seems solid floats away, dissolves,   
and these poor bastard things, no longer things,   
drift back to pure idea. And when, at last,   
we let them go we start to pity them,
attend their needs: I almost have to think
to keep my own heart beating through the night.   
I have a wife and four pink boys. I spin   
on all this stupid metaphysic now
because last afternoon we visited
some friends in town. After the pecan pie,
I drank until my forehead smacked the table,   
and woke to find my shirt crusted with blood.   
When Mary didn’t yell at me, I knew   
she finally understood that I was gone,   
dissolving back. As we rode home, I tried   
to say, I’m sorry, Hon. The carriage bucked   
across the mud-dried ruts and I shut up.
And she, in August heat, just sat, head cocked   
as if for chills hidden in the hot, damp breeze,   
as if they were a sound, time merely distance.   
O Death, I know exactly where it is—
your sting. And, Grave, I know your victory.
That night, around the tents, the boys caught fireflies,   
pinched them in half, and smeared them on their nails,   
then ran through pine-dark woods, waving their hands.   
All I could hear was laughter, shouts. And all
that I could see for each one of my sons
were ten blurs of faint, artificial light,
never too far apart, and trembling.
Like fairies, magic, sprites, they ran and shouted,   
“I’m not real! I’m not real!” The whole world fell   
away from me—perhaps I was still drunk—
as on the night Titania told dazed Bottom,
“Put off your human grossness so, and like
an airy spirit go.” But even then
the night could not hold long against the light,   
and light destroys roots, fog, lies, orchids, night,   
dawn stars, the moon, delusions, and most magic.   
And light sends into hiding owls, fireflies,
and bats, whom for their unerring blunder, I
adore the most of all night fliers. But owls,
hid in a hickory, will hoot all day,
and even the moon persists, like my hangover,   
some days till almost noon, drifting above
the harsh, bright, murderous morning light—so blue,   
so valuable, so much like currency
that if the moon were my blue coin, I’d never spend it.

Andrew Hudgins, “What Light Destroys” from After the Lost War. Copyright © 1988 by Andrew Hudgins. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: After the Lost War (1988)

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Poet Andrew Hudgins b. 1951

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Relationships, Religion, Faith & Doubt, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Andrew  Hudgins


Poet Andrew Hudgins was born in Killeen, Texas, in 1951. The eldest son in a military family, Hudgins moved around the American South for much of his childhood, eventually attending Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama. He earned his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1983. His poetry is known for its dark humor, formal control, and adept handling of voice. Hudgins’s first book, Saints and Strangers (1986), was . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Religion, Faith & Doubt, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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