Poem | Portrait of the Poet’s Grandmother (Lighting Candles)

By | Dec 02, 2021
Two shabbat candles on a green background.


In many Jewish homes, lighting candles at dusk marks a shift to sacred time, the moment when the Sabbath starts—or a holiday, a yahrzeit. The ritual calls on us to turn from day-to-day concerns toward a more reverent relationship to time. This poem by David Biespiel offers another kind of illumination, suggesting years of life and loss within a candlelit glimpse. —Jody Bolz, poetry editor


Lately she doesn’t listen too well,
So that when she’s covering her eyes
She’s really hearing her own thoughts.
And the feeling of her hands, tender,
Fluttering, is not quite soft—
Though when she feels the heat
Lathed by the ecstatic flame,
She can sense her own warm blood
When—summer, autumn, winter, spring—
The dead come round, and of late,
Each one, name them as you
Will, is a pointillist ghost,
Figure of impossible, hundred-
Pointed light. I need to look, with
Tactile clarity, close, to
Touch their everything-
Still-on-fire scarlet, sun-rinsed skin,
Depending on the angle of
The memory, or on the height and
Scale of the day’s weather, blown
And scored. Here, she stoops over the
Candlesticks. Meaning, toward
Evening, she’s always
Disappearing. Like a fragrance.
Like sprinkled water on a garden.
Or, she’s upright, face to the day’s
Last rouge of light, thin enough to
Pass through. She’s given up
Talking, and I’m mystified, weighted
Down, and feel a new patience
For winnowing desire. Is this
Fire enough to pinch, or hold onto,
Like the meadow near the house
Within a walking mile, a
Taste of peaches in the air?

David Biespiel is the author of numerous books, including, most recently, the poetry collection Republic Café and the memoir A Place of Exodus, which tells the story of the rise and fall of his Jewish boyhood in Texas. 

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