Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Witch's Candle

Georges de La Tour-The Repentant Magdalen-National Washington

Witch’s Candle

I sent my heart, a candle in a paper boat,
sailing out on a white-rimed onyx sea
by the witchlight of a failing auburn moon.
At morning’s crackling burn she returned to me,
finding nowhere any berth or port of rest,
and this is all the tale that she confessed:

“I sailed at first quite blind," her low voice murmured,
“Nothing moved on the silent water’s face
except for my own shadow cast before me.
Then towards midnight, waves began to race.
The paper boat leaned to the blackened sea
as if the circling atoms sang beneath me.

"A  basilisk blue, a serpentine ocean's child
brought its face upturned to split the waters,
slicked with scales of turquoise demi-moons,
natron flame for eyes, black doves for daughters.
It seemed to want to eat me, piping tunes
on an easy azure tongue that danced the dawn,
but it tired of my taste, and I sailed on.

“Then,” said my heart, “ I came to a speck of land.
The paper boat shook out its weary folds,
for what’s so white and thin’s not meant to last,
not nearly last as long as what it holds,
and I was growing heavier with the tides,
but lava lapped the land's membranous sides.

“My own flame paled, lightning of a blinking insect
beside the heat that island caused to flood.
Red rock ran incandescent from the puncture,
a  hissing mouth that spit the worldcore’s blood
and brought its floating lips to my boat’s height,
kissing its creases crisp in the fire’s bite.

“The eagle of four corners stooped above me,
and pierced me on his running ruby claws.
He carried me for twenty leagues untiring.
I watched the obsidian sea and learned its laws.
I saw a million such as I, chained frozen, alone,
or sailing still but dead as a fossil's bone.

“I begged the bird to teach me how to fly.
Instead, he dipped his wing on a downward turn.
He loosed his grip; I dropped, my flame blown out.
So three times turned away, here I return.”

There bottomed in the bright aurora of dawn,
I took her back, so broken and so sore,
called her my one candle, light and life,
and swore to send her sailing out no more.

July 2011

Posted for    OneShotWednesday   at the inimitable OneStopPoetry

Image: The Repentant Magdelen, by Georges de la Tour, ca 1628-45, oil on canvas


  1. gotta watch who you allow to hold that candel for sure, there are many that take pleasure in blowing them out or treatinging them as any other...a well spun tale hedge...

  2. Such a sweeping Life of the Poet, a night-sea journey which begins with the first line and ends with the last. It's a reusable candle, a trustworthy bark even though it's only keeled in paper, even though what the heart it ferries is seeking can't be found until it comes home (no place like home, eh Dorothy?). But that isn't the point, is it ... Wonders fill the main, but nothing can't quite fill the voyager-heart out there -- that was never their job ... Theirs is to weave the strange relation which is the poem, a fantastic voyage if you ask me, worthy of St. Brendan or Cerridwen afloat in her magic cooking pot. Console your poor voyager that there is nothing hallowed that is not first fully harrowed. Six paper lifeboats lined up like shoes of triplet hobbits by the shore of this wonderful poem, all dancing with merry applause. - Brendan

  3. @B: Glad you liked, my friend. Yes, it's a life voyage, and the lesson is not easily learned, the sea not smooth (or tasty) as frozen yogurt, but coming home is good. Now I need to find three hobbits who are willing to wear shoes--they're funny about that.

  4. @H: Oops, I meant tiny curly-toed elf-slippers. (My pop-mytho chops suck). Hope you're enjoying some frozen yogurt out there on a shelf of the blast furnace. And be a good hedger and let your heart lick the spoon.

  5. there's much in this..read it several times...I sent my heart, a candle in a paper boat,
    sailing out on a white-rimed onyx sea...and then what happened - and then the pain and disappointment...but still i think we should always try again and again and send her out sailing - no one ever promised it would be safe...

  6. @B Ah, curly-toed elf slippers I can always use myself. (Goes with the pointy hat) And when it comes to frozen yogurt, there's always a lick for the heart. Unfortunately, it's already 104 here today, so we can't get the frozen yogurt home before it melts.

  7. Witch, this is just magnificently done. Every word crackles and the entire concept is both fairy-tale-ish and hallucinatory.

    "and brought its floating lips to my boat’s height,
    kissing its creases crisp in the fire’s bite."

    Wow, just wow. You should be very very proud of this poem.

  8. @FB Thanks dear--this one played up on me badly in the final hours, but I finally wrestled it into submission. Your own one shot today is my new favorite of yours.

  9. love the slightly archaic yet otherworldly tone. Wonderful command of language as always, pulling great words out of your treasure trove. The end is perfect and beautiful.

  10. So then...what are your thoughts on love?

  11. Hedge, I just tried to post a rather long comment, but it came up Service error.

    I'll try again, this is to too haunting and beautiful to not try again.

    Lady Nyo

  12. Wow such depth in this one and yes the candle can be blown out my many wanting what you have, so one must always remain aware.

  13. What a journey for the paper boat (your heart).
    You write powerfully with vivid images. But I do wish that she will sail again. Lovely share~

    Thanks for visiting me and gifting me with your words of encouragement.

  14. Beautiful writing of a beautiful journey. I love the candle in a paper boat ...just gorgeous !

  15. Fascinating tale well-spun. I enjoyed it very much.

  16. This is so beautifully crafted, but feels so natural. Amazing write!

  17. I like the line "but it tired of my taste".

  18. You story-telling skills are mind blowing, Joy!!
    And hats off to your superb imagination and brilliant depiction!

    And now, cheers to that feeble little candle.. aka "heart" :) She is much stronger than she appears... no?! :)

  19. This is too magnificent to summarize in a comment. It's tremendous, so well crafted and languaged. It rings ageless and true. Your heart deserves the piece, but yes, never to be sent out again toward torment. I love the paper boat, I love the fragility and yet resilience. I rejoice at her return, her survival, her strength. For we must have more, more, much much more.

  20. Like a myth of old, come to tell us some of the haunting natures of the world...great story, and great story-telling; the depiction of the heart is vividly and beautifully rendered here - it makes our own hearts reach out to her, knowing, hoping, aching. An engaging and classical treasure reverberating with life and substance.

  21. Lots of vivid imagery in this piece of prose-poetry.

  22. Goodness Gracious! What an epic vision...!
    And so beautifully written - the pace and delicacy of story-telling - I was transported. There was something of Ursula le Guin, in the tale, but more of yourself.
    I'm unashamedly blown away. You should be published and on bookshelves the world over.

  23. Thanks Kerry--I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

    And thanks to everyone for stopping by, reading and leaving their very kind comments.

  24. This work of brilliance appears as a journey of apocalyptic proportions. The images and detail throughout are vivid, and each stanza a world unto itself. I would like to save a copy of this for my own perusal if this is alright with you.

  25. Thanks Elizabeth. I'm pleased you'd like to read this more than once, and it's fine. The only thing I ever ask is that it get attribution if its ever used elsewhere. (The Creative Commons licensing info is on the comment/use page.)

  26. i especially liked:
    The paper boat shook out its weary folds,
    for what’s so white and thin’s not meant to last,
    not nearly last as long as what it holds,

    and the ending. =)

  27. I came back for a second read this morning, and found so many nuances and had missed on first reading. Last night, the images of story gripped me, today the words.... How filled I am with poetic envy at the paper boat, so white and thin, with its precious burden, sailing on the black sea....

  28. @lucychili: You've picked out my favorite lines of the piece, as they just came without any effort as I wrote. Thanks for reading.

    @Kerry: Deeply appreciate you coming by for a second helping. It makes all the work that went into this worthwhile to know a reader can get that much from it. Many many thanks.

    And thanks to all who've read and left their thoughts, or who've just read and enjoyed.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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