Ode to The Candle


Julia Showalter

Joy Campbell, senior, and Mrs. Julia Showalter, English teacher, pose after Joy won the Poetry Out Loud competition. She also won the MD Poetry Ourselves Contest with this poem.

Joy Campbell

(Inspired by Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things)

Birth: immaculate conception.
A baby girl, kicking and screaming,
takes her first breath.
Curtain rises on the explosion of life,
with dazzling reds and titans and ambers.
A single spark of a frappé—and she’s off.

The steady burn of a ballerina’s work,
churning legs bourrée.
Fanning the flame.
A pas de deux of wax and work.
Push, pull.
Plentiful pliés.
Her limbs like salt water taffy,
her eyes never losing sight of me,
her enthralling gaze christens me.
I, a mere mortal noticed by the red-hot goddess.

Eclipsing embers of the night.
Weaving simple pleasures and the fire of the new:
harmony in the form of blaze.
Her flame stands erect,
alert as a prized hound’s tail before the hunt.

Tender fondue of wax falling upon itself.
A slow release of flesh, rolls of skin:
a bountiful woman’s stomach
that which has borne children,
Borne pain and life.
Which has held fire inside,
Both hearth and haven.

By and by
Her steadfast toil turns toxic.
The work becomes unbearable.
Wick reduced to a fraction of its youth.
The beauty of the burn suffocated
by the matter of monoxide.
Out of oxygen
she slips out of her pirouette.
Weakest link, waning light.
Breaking the illusion of impossible perfection.

Finally, in her last dying moments,
a swan song of smoke:
the pyre of pollution.
I do not cry,
I do not shed a tear for her.
She floats out into the abyss
until the once fiery, young spright,
now with a maternal kiss and a curtsy,
allows the curtain to fall.
And she, just as quickly as she came,
fizzles                   into                          ash.