Candle Power

The unction cools my brow; the candle shines
and braids a line of sacramental brede;
the priest half-chants the text, and makes the signs,
jogging my mind with the redemptive creed
I learned to lisp in church. A night-shift nurse
shows up with rosary beads and borrowed shawl:
I squeeze my morphine pump; the pain is worse.
A gurney clatters down the empty hall.

I wonder what my blur of meaning meant
to warrant such precautionary flush;
I wonder why the candle's Sunday scent
expands and cloys the sterile room. A hush
folds up all sound; the candle snuffs its flame:
a wisp absconds with my stowaway name.

by William F Dougherty

Comments (4)

Candle Power note to reader: An ironic persona thereof. Not comprehensible unless familiar with Last Rites of Catholic church, sometimes called supreme unction; it is given only to the dying or those who might die; all the physicality is just a prop. Redemptive is central word. The speaker is clearly an apostate who cannot remember the prayer of contrition, and if/as the candle/light of his life goes out a whiff of smoke [spirit] rises/ascends for reasons other than ordinary religiosity because something sacramentally elevates him in under a stowaway name, spiritual pseudonym, or so it seems.
Bob: The uses of ambiguity: 'Candle power, ' I suppose, refers to the rite; it is also used as a measure of 'light.' Candle power was a standardized unit for the light generated by a candle of stipulated size a foot away from its source. Readings were taken by a 'candle-meter, ' an awkward wooden box. American Heritage book-stand dictionary calls the term 'obsolete, ' a pejorative with idiosyncratic connotations these days. It stands, although in a reading or collection it could bear a footnote. The 'light' emanating from the candle is a tip an 'eiron' is at play. Auden is right: the best poetry may be the clear expression of mixed feelings. bill.
It's fascinating that the title is Candle Power and the persona is at the brink of relinquishing all personal power yet is able to observe his condition and draw the reader into empathy.
Like a perfectly whittled wooden sculpture, it conveys your themes with ruthless clarity and tidiness. Where I would have left implications and sub-themes dangling or entangled, and leapt back and forth along the way, you've demonstrated great discipline and craftmanship throughout. The candle's flame as metaphor for life's fragility has rarely been used with more restraint or to greater effect. It's image rich but not over-done, the energy levels are appropriately subdued, the language choice is superb and the themes are weighty and personally revealing enough to justify this level of artistic accomplishment. Amongst the very best I've read on here from a living writer - and that includes Wilbur.