Published on Academy of American Poets (


Whether it’s true
that the moth mistakes the candle’s flame 
for the moon or the bioluminescent 
pheromones of another moth,

I can’t say.
I was the candle. 
I was the flame

conceived in and by reason of 
darkness, nibbling on a darkening wick. 
When moth after moth after moth 
swarmed me with their powdery wings,

I asked why. 
I asked how. 
I asked if

I could survive knowing
that not everything has a reason, 
that not everything is capable
of or interested in reason.

Nothing answered. 
Nothing spoke
my language of smoke.


Copyright © 2021 by Paul Tran. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 24, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Every poem, for me, begins with a question I don’t have the answer to, and here, in ‘Hypothesis,’ the question is whether I could persist in a world where things—love, violence, pleasure, pain, joy, agony—occur at random. I didn’t think I could; I thought there had to be a reason for suffering, that my suffering made me special, but in writing this poem, I found that I suffer because I want my suffering to mean something. Pain is pain, the poet Randall Jarrell tells me, and I’m trying—I really am trying—to see the world for what it is and not what my heart needs it to be.”
Paul Tran


Paul Tran

Paul Tran is the author of All the Flowers Kneeling (Penguin Books, 2022), and is a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. 

Date Published: 2021-05-24

Source URL: