A long time spent trying, kneeling,
to light a votive for my mother
from a votive for another. Each
fire floats on shallow viscous water.
With my stick, I wet wicks, extinguishing
prayers instead of sending up mine:
I loved you every day, will. My stick
blackens, does not carry light. Evening
bells ring. The church is closing to open
All the while an antsy girl clicks
her heels hard on the tiles. Her mother,
on a kneeler under a portrait of Mary,
weeps softly into her own arms. Hard
to do anything well kneeling
except wonder. Like a girl in a war
in a book, I seek some softly-lit
continuity, poach prayed-for heat,
well-turned grief, long to be near
one well-known by another.
I’m in the world, the world
my mother could not enter,
did depart. Touching my finger
to a stranger’s flame, I mean to touch
my mother. Amorphous immutable
death takes beautiful shape in a candle
flame in a cathedral. I know nothing closer
to love: this attempt to take
light’s purchase, try to apply its
breath to darkness. I’ve nearly drowned
the final light. The mother
of the busy girl, the clicker, weeps
What if this is heaven?
This cathedral empty but for us, five
mothers: Mary, mine, me, her, hers.
When the guard says time to go
I stand and see in every tile
flame bright as a fresh rip.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.