Swamp Candles

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78 pp
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“The poems in Swamp Candles move with a keen and unique economy, presenting an accessible, thoughtful human voice in a sure, unforced music. Burns is speaking directly to us, paying attention to his life, the possible life of art that might reinforce this life, that might explain our struggle with faith.”—Quarterly West

“Well-placed colloquialisms and convincing natural imagery give ballast to metaphysical themes in Burns's …book, co-winner of the 1995 Iowa Poetry Prize.”—Publishers Weekly

“In his new book, Ralph Burns fuses the two major strands in American poetry. His spare images dazzle us with their precision, while his colloquial voice moves us with its vital rhythms and deep emotions.”—Maura Stanton, author of Life Among the Trolls

“These poems combine emotional and intellectual depth with great melodic beauty. They shine with ferocious clarity.”—Pam Durban, author of The Laughing Place

In his convincing and highly accomplished fifth book, Ralph Burns draws on his deep practice and experience. His tones, forms, and subjects are various and striking, and the work of a poet mature and courageous enough to range through the full spectrum of his emotions.

Sometimes Burns is haunted by the strength and fallibility of the Christian tradition, and in many of his poems he explores the conflicts between individuals and the larger world—the mystery and responsibility of choice, consequence and inconsequence, “the terror of being taken.”

Table of contents: 

A Boat Is a Lover

The Life Ever After:
Two Birds
The Man Who Patched the Floor
In the Bathroom Mirror
First Flight
Son, When I Hold You Tightly

Anniversary of Wood:
Anniversary of Wood
For My Wife, on Our Son’s Third Birthday

Swamp Candles:
Swimming Pool
Adam’s Birthday
The Happy Story
To My Father in Heaven

Real Time:
Real Time
Suburb of Light and Dazzle
The Hope of Mississippi
Slug Caterpillar
Wild Walking: After the Gulf War


Real Time

When the thought of a thought
lives itself and then its
other lives, and your mother
and I read you a quick story,
a mystery chosen by you

from your library at school,
and time calls spinning still
in its clock, the one we
gave as we took, took not
from my family but your

mother's, her mother's
white rocking still so that
sleep is the same, when time
does this—calls,
calls you back—

know that he or she
is not a thief asleep by
the river—nor one already
carried far and away, all
those waves of darkness

hardened over years. We have
accused knowledge but knowing
nothing has kept us
from our fear and that,
that is our calling

and what we have not thought
all these years.