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Light one Candle

Five candles

Eleven o’clock. Twenty chairs. A book 
lies open at some fitting passages
and, in a covered case, a register;
the awkward, gentle, sympathetic words
that tiptoe round the possibility   
of perfect, quite untenable despair. Our eyes
are drawn towards a simple stem from which  
five candles rise in step into the centre.
First Laura Beth, then John, then dad and mum  
hold matches out until five flames rise steadily
for Luke, the object of this holy sadness 
who never breathed with us our troubled air:
and so a family is defined.  
                                               Meanwhile outside  
the lorries rumble past—the peaceful dead can't stop
the noisy work of tending to the living. 
The half-hour service done, a dozen guests
walk out into the garish August sun 
to private cares and wounded lives. Death
is a great healer and the acid test of love. 
Not even nights of utter desolation
can keep us from the savage care of Christ,  
but prove the miracle that faith is born
as a child of grief, and the foul-tasting cup  
of suffering’s the medicine of heaven. To those
in the material world who say that life  
is just the sum of our activity,
and in their cruellest kindnesses insist  
an unborn child is no more than a thing;
and do not know how love can turn 
a hospital’s prefabricated room
to sacred ground, or how a flame may burn 
and never be consumed—to them these five
blue candles will forever give the lie.


For Graham and Karen Taylor-Burge, 1993.