A weekly poem, accessibly annotated.
This week I’ve chosen “BIG CANDLES” by Melissa Broder, first published in Gigantic.
You move to a commune at the base of a mountain.
The commune offers spirituality.
They also offer a serum to be taken once a day.
The serum is said to relieve overthinking.
You take the serum five to ten times a day.
If you can think less why not think never.
If you can be happy why not go blind.
This is what’s known as an overdose.
You feel you’re evolving.
You speak with the high priest.
The high priest says: Pay attention to your dreams and you will
He asks that you be present in the moment.
You don’t want to do that.
You take seven doses of the serum.
You go to sleep.
You see nothing.
You are a person who is ready to give up worry.
But you are not ready to give up want.
The rest of the disciples are ready to give up worry and want.
There is a difference.
You wonder if you are the biggest serum fiend who ever lived.
Everyone brings to the commune a different energy.
Yours is probably crazy.
Life is sacred and must be treated as such.
Some of the other disciples are hot.
You want them to fuck you.
You see the disciples around you having all kinds of
There is an ease about them.
Maybe it is the mountain.
You have not given the mountain time to work its magick on you
You climb the mountain.
You stop to masturbate in the forest near the summit.
You are masturbating to the mountain.
When you have an orgasm you get the good serumy feeling.
You hear the mountain say DON’T WORRY BABY.
You hear the mountain say I WANT YOU.
You think about the vials of serum in your pocket.
You keep reaching into your pocket to touch the vials.
Every time you touch the vials the sun comes out.
Four shadows appear from your body.
You grow frightened.
Then the four shadows become one.
You think of angels.
You think of god.
Then you think SERUM.
There are dark hours and bright hours.
You only want the bright hours.
What kind of fool would not want that?
You will be a million people before you get to the bottom.
All of her tweets have pithiness and darkness in common. Beyond that, there are a few sub-species, one of which is particularly akin to today’s poem—call it Broder vs. “Personal Growth.”
In this tweet-genre, she first boils down the well-meaning soft spirituality familiar from Oprah, twelve-step programs, and whatever “New Age” makes you think of. That concoction is then forced through a meat grinder of slang, hedonistic nihilism, and rap references. (Movies, too.) The result is a generalized flirtation with the void; each tweet is like a Craigslist Missed Connection where the long-gone sexy strangers are self-esteem, serenity, or a sense of meaning.
In another mode, her Twitter is the inner monologue of the affection-seeking cell-phone gazer (which is to say, nearly everyone): an echo chamber of obsession and inadequacy that is 1. extremely real 2. hugely charming, despite everything.
On top of all of this, Broder writes great poetry. “BIG CANDLES” is a fable of self-improvement. An acquaintance told me the story of learning about humility from his grandmother as a kid:
“So humility is good.”
“Do I have humility?”
“…Do I have more than my brother?”
The narrator of the poem derides her progress relative to others while checking them out; narcissism, self-doubt, and horniness rear their heads everywhere, even in healing lovefests. The narrator compares how she feels to how others look, the classic recipe for self-hatred that makes browsing Facebook so unpleasant.
Everyone wants to feel better, but we’d also like it to be easy; sometimes the medicine sounds scarier than staying sick. Buddhism sounded great to me until I found out I wasn’t supposed to desire things. “You are not ready to give up want.”
We carry our incessant brains with us everywhere; at times, being someplace “peaceful” only makes the noise louder. Might as well carve this above the door of every yoga studio: “Everyone brings to the commune a different energy. / Yours is probably crazy.”
Peeling back a layer of the self-onion can be both thrilling and disconcerting. For better or worse, you were wrong about the person you spend all your time with. Then there’s new you-ness to deal with. Don’t like it? Not to worry: there’s always another self underneath. The end of the poem creates a little loop to the end of last week’s poem:
“You will be a million people before you get to the bottom.”
Quick notes: People get their dopamine however they can. That’s why it’s perfect that the narrator masturbates when she’s supposed to be meditating; no one smokes cigarettes like someone quitting drinking.
What is the serum? A fantasy: everyone wants enlightenment to be bite-sized. If it were, we’d hoard it.
Best lines: “Life is sacred and must be treated as such. / Some of the other disciples are hot.”
Huge thanks to Melissa Broder for permission to republish her poem! PRE-ORDER HER NEW BOOK.
Front page photo of the summit of Mont-Blanc via Wikipedia user Nattfodd.
You, Too, Dislike It appears every Thursday.