The Candle In Your Hand

Suddenly the day is done.

You look up from your occupation on the floor,
your serious play, and see that
darkness drifted in
and took your sunny room.

Your mother watches gravely as you put your toys away,
and when you cannot find your favorite,
and begin to fret, for you are tired,
she smiles and you recall –
you gave that dear possession to your friend
who came to play. At the memory you feel relief:
You have not spent the day in monumental deeds;
You are only a child,
but at least you are her child.
Now she gives you a small dinner,
dresses you for the night,
and you begin to drowse standing by the door,
and the fire goes out.

Your mother, ever gracious,
makes somberly a circuit of the chamber.
As she goes, she lights slim candles all around,
and last of all, she puts one candle in your hand.

So it is really true – even summer days
come to a close and bedtime really does arrive.
It was not easy to recall that as you played.

The room feels cold. The room repulses you:
that room you felt so friendly,
and so fine a place to spend the day –
Silent dread stands in its corners.
You cannot stay here now.

Mother sees you to the door
but you will go up the stairs alone.
Your father is waiting to bless your night.
The door is heavy. The door thuds closed
behind your back
and you begin to climb the stairs
in darkness feathered by a candle flame.
You hear your mother singing to you from below.

“Memory eternal, memory eternal, memory eternal!”

Where are the stairs?
Where is the lighted candle?
Where also is the dark?
If you turn, where is the door through which you came?
Where is the house and where are you yourself?
What is the name
by which you can continue to exist
in this dismantling?
Where are all the processes?

The darkness and the nothing shift;
you are less than embryo enwombed.
Only – One is there about whom nothing can be known.
You are seized with this One and to this One you go
as rock to the earth, as breath to the lungs.
In spaceless, timeless, breathless invisibility,
you are seized by the terror of the Lord.

A voice still sings, or something like a voice
is doing something, still, like singing.

Memory eternal, memory eternal, memory eternal.

Your own allotted time for remembering is past.
You had a summer day in which to recall Someone –
others had short winter days, full of only suffering.
All that is  – and you no longer know what ‘all’ may be –
all rests in a more eternal Memory.

Some light that was a candle flame
remains, though a candle is useless to you now.
The shining of it has a shape –
a key made for the lock on your mind.
Something like singing still,
something like shining, still – and now,
a Memory not yours, and yet for you.

Eternal Memory does not allow
the backward rush of things into the past
where they sink gradually into the muck
clinging to the banks of Time,
nor does it let things fall
beside the road to decompose
in Time’s ghost towns.
Eternal Memory is not so fluid or so careless.
Why, it would seem there is no downstairs:
Your mother is not left behind.
The toy you gave away – even that is not a lost thing here.
Last of all your darkened room will be roused
from its dreadful slumber
by a final sunrise of remembering.

You will go on, desire drawing you,
pressing through that inward-facing ascent,
which began as if it were the climbing of a stair.
through terror and ignorance, You have returned
to the Beloved Unknown,and He is holding you.

5 thoughts on “The Candle In Your Hand

  1. Alana:

    I am not so smart as to know all the whys of your poem but it brings two disjointed thoughts to mind. The first is C.S. Lewis’ book Surprised by Joy where he talks about remembering something as a boy and how it brought him joy and he tried to get that feeling back but couldn’t. He was on a quest for joy, but was surprised that the road to joy was through Christ. The second is “memory eternal”. Last week we had three memorials in church and the normally reticent congregation will always join the cantor in singing “May their memory be eternal” which always sends chills up my spine. I am glad that the church remembers those who have gone on before us, because I hope to be remembered the same way when I am dead and gone. Someone is remembering you and that is a wonderful thing.

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  2. Yes, I agree… I’ve tried to show how that remembrance makes a difference without making dogmatic statements about life after death. The same thing happens in our church when we sing “memory eternal” so I guess that part will always mean more to an Orthodox reader of my poem.

    Thanks for commenting, Pam.

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  3. This is a good poem in a calm, glowing way, but the last part is foundational, good theology in a poetic guise, and teaches the truth to anyone who ever wondered what we mean when we sing Αιωνια η μνημη, Aionia i mnimi, Eternal memory…

    Eternal Memory does not allow
    the backward rush of things into the past
    where they sink gradually into the muck
    clinging to the banks of Time,
    nor does it let things fall
    beside the road to decompose
    in Time’s ghost towns.
    Eternal Memory is not so fluid or so careless.
    Why, it would seem there is no downstairs:
    Your mother is not left behind.
    The toy you gave away – even that is not a lost thing here.
    Last of all your sunny room will be roused
    from its dreadful slumber
    by a final sunrise of remembering.

    You will go on, desire drawing you,
    pressing through that inward-facing ascent,
    which began as if it were the climbing of a stair.


    Bravo kai axia, adelphí mou! Axia, eti kai eti!

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  4. It’s so odd that in the months before my mother passed away so unexpectedly, death was so near and was all I could write about. This immensity continues to hover but there’s a new light in it now that someone I am close to is on the other side…

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