Because I Know so Many Dead People
Because, of my acquaintance, so many reside
in very small rooms underground
and let the trees and bushes wave for them
I am constrained to many foolish acts
such as weeping, poetry and insomnia
and the incessant lighting of candles.
Although I possess eleven table lamps,
all serviceable – one a Tiffany
with exquisite dragonfly eyes –
I continue to buy towers of wax
some coloured or scented – all expensive.
So when the light fails each afternoon
earlier and earlier these November days
I creep with smoking match from wick to wick
and wonder what I hope from this.
Do I expect the dead to come?
Hardly. I would settle for less
(although I'd be glad to ask for advice
from my mother on crocus bulbs
family history and a number of other things
I needn't discuss now). I would settle for less.
Even now, I'd light a candle in church –
although I never go – I'd put ten pence down
and add a taper to the burning mass.
But I don't know why. A candle for a soul
the priest said. But then night comes and rain
and who watches the candles then
I used to wonder as I hurried home.
When I was a kid no one had gone.
Graveyards were places to steal stones –
green stones like peas. Candles were for church
and candles were for souls. And souls were
what? To do with God but more to do with
candles? I think when I was young
I thought that souls were candles.
Perhaps that's why I buy them everywhere.
My information about souls is nil
(although candles are mixed in somewhere).
No. Candles are not souls. And they don't compel
the dead to visit us – through the dark, through the rain
through the years. The great church candle with three wicks
will last the longest, but the scented ones entice the most.
What they do is ask. Candles remember and ask.
But no one comes. They do not come.
First published Orbis 2000
This poem appeared in The Goodbye Edition, Shoestring Press, 2005
© 2005 Carole Coates