The Moth A moth, I flutter ‘bout thee, flame. I am silent. I pantomime my desire. For thee, bright delirious fire, I pine. In thee myself I find Mute, dancing, An inaccuracy in motion, sketched, A charcoal glimmer of light reflected; seething, wanting, aching, afraid. I burn, love: thou hast burnt me.
© 1999 David Clark
Comments: I wrote this poem sometime in 1998 or 1999 for a girl I was in love with. I gave it to her as a Valentine’s Day gift, I think, hoping it would be sweet and romantic. I’m not sure what she really thought of it, but in retrospect a year later, I realized that the piece was far more expressive of our actual relationship than I had wanted to recognize at writing.
Originally, as now, the thirteenth line read “aching, afraid.” Years later, I showed the poem to my M.F.A. thesis advisor, Kate Knapp Johnson (who is fantastic, by the way), and she suggested removing that one first word. I think I see her point—it may border on the cliché, perhaps, and “seething” and “wanting” are possibly enough—but I keep going back and forth between the two possibilities. There is a very nice rhythm set up by “seething, wanting, aching,” with three trochees (BAH buh BAH buh BAH buh), which is then broken by the iamb of “afraid” (buh BAH); the same pattern and pattern destruction are echoed in sense, as well, since the first three words are all more positive, and describe an attraction, a desire, while the fourth is more negative, and indicates a repulsive force. This sort of build and shift places a whole lot of weight on that one, final word.
At a talk once, the late, great Thomas Lux, discussing lists, emphasized the importance of getting each term, and especially the last one, right. Done well, a good list packs efficient, powerful punch. He was, at the time, I thought, talking mostly about choosing words in terms of how their meaning plays together, but clearly meaning isn’t the only thing you need to consider; something that Lux certainly knew and meant even though he didn’t explicitly spell it out for us. In that spirit, I think I might opt to keep “aching” in, at least for now.
This poem was first published in Small Press Collective (a student literary journal from Reed College) in 2000, I believe.