illuminated shadows
By Candlelight
by Maura High
After hearing a recording of Peter Pears singing Britten’s “Dirge”

If all I want is light,
I could switch on electric,
but a candle is for expectations,

is preparation, calibrator
of hope and waiting.

And what I have is dark green, scented.
The flame bobs and flows
in the draft. I might have said

lonely, the lone light
in a dark room, but it has already

summoned familiars,
the only ones to come
indoors, this side of the windows.

Here, with their lanterns
and candlesticks and tapers,
stubs and pillars, their beeswax,

paraffin wax, dyes and perfumes.
One carries a tray of lit votives.

Another, a cake on fire.
The child asks, Why
must we blow them out? Why

just one breath?
Why must a wish be secret?

A man takes a candle from his kitbag
and the waterproof, screw-top canister
of matches, strikes one, and the cave

comes back, and the ledge
where we were sitting. Water drips,

breath fogs the air.
My grandmother rummages in a drawer
for one of the kitchen candles,

to keep me safe while she checks
the fuse box under the stairs, or finds

a florin for the meter. In the dark,
patient, I am still waiting.
Where does flame go? What

does she wish when she blows it out?
A wish is always for the end of waiting.

PAINTING: Illuminated shadows by Chronis Botsoglou.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I love words! I make my living from them, read them, write them. My poems usually begin with some kind of verbalization, some kind of naming, and spin out from there. I try to extend beyond the naming, by exploring the subject from many angles and into many directions, often from and into the social and environmental implications of the initial perception.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maura High was born in Wales. As a child, she moved with her family from country to country, and then taught in secondary schools in Nigeria before emigrating to the United States. She now lives and works, as an editor and translator, in North Carolina. A chapbook, The Garden of Persuasions, was published by Jacar Press, and other poems have appeared in online and print journals and anthologies. Visit her at