“Candles and Joni Mitchell and the First Consequential Breakup” by Jim Daniels

acm joni mitchellI

she’d called it off, below zero
on moon-snow illuminated streets.
Off, and she wasn’t inviting me in
for tea and further discussion.
A dog ablaze between drifts
barked the pre-echo of our parting.

Sincere nose-running froze
as we stood in the cracked palm
of Mid-Michigan. Scraper
against windshield cutting
the world in half. The word
in half—off, off, off,
hair trailing behind her into gloom,
the precise echo of door slam.

Just me out there, strumming
my scripted heartbreak,
just plunky world-end below-zero
tears. I could see the breath
I was trying to catch.

Why did she have to be nice
about it, that Joni Mitchell Blue voice,
the long sincere hair of it? Inside,
in candlelight, tears hardened
to wax. How many times does
the world end? Does the black wick
ever falter? Does the engine
stop turning over?

Oh, wicked candlelight,
oh cold, cold moon, and the myth
of the star leading the heart home.
I know now, Joni, no making snow
angels over that. I grew to love jazz,
but then I was twenty years old,
a lost dog ablaze between drifts.


Jim Daniels’ recent poetry books include Rowing Inland, Street
Calligraphy and The Middle Ages. In 2017, he also edited
Challenges to the Dream: The Best of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards. His next collection of short fiction, The Perp Walk, will be published by Michigan State University Press this year. He is the Thomas S. Baker University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon.