Published on Academy of American Poets (

In Defense of “Candelabra with Heads”

If you’ve read the “Candelabra with Heads”
that appears in this collection and the one
in The Animal, thank you. The original,
the one included here, is an example, I’m told,
of a poem that can speak for itself, but loses
faith in its ability to do so by ending with a thesis
question. Yeats said a poem should click shut
like a well-made box. I don’t disagree.
I ask, “Who can see this and not see lynchings?”
not because I don’t trust you, dear reader,
or my own abilities. I ask because the imagination
would have us believe, much like faith, faith
the original “Candelabra” lacks, in things unseen.
You should know that human limbs burn
like branches and branches like human limbs.
Only after man began hanging man from trees
then setting him on fire, which would jump
from limb to branch like a bastard species
of bird, did we come to know such things.
A hundred years from now, October 9, 2116,
8:18 p.m., when all but the lucky are good
and dead, may someone happen upon the question
in question. May that lucky someone be black
and so far removed from the verb lynch that she be
dumbfounded by its meaning. May she then
call up Hirschhorn’s Candelabra with Heads.
May her imagination, not her memory, run wild.


Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This poem was written in response to an editorial decision I made at the suggestion of poets whom I respect. In my chapbook, The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, the edited version of the poem ‘Candelabra with Heads’ appears, sans the original last line: ‘Who can see this and not see lynchings?’ Inspired by and named after Thomas Hirschhorn’s sculptural work, which features mannequins bandaged in brown duct tape and hung from a wood frame, the original ‘Candelabra with Heads’ speaks most honestly to my intent. That said, I’ve returned the line, the question to its place in the poem.”
—Nicole Sealey


Nicole Sealey

Nicole Sealey is the author of Ordinary Beast (Ecco Press, 2017). She is the Executive Director at the Cave Canem Foundation, and lives in Brooklyn, New York. 

Date Published: 2017-08-14

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