For eight days each December they call out to me as the flame of the candles flickers out, “Remember me” they say in unison, “remember me”, in the voice of the child, an old woman, in Yiddish, in Polish, German, Czech, Latt. I want to remember but I cannot see a face reduced to ash, blended into the earth of a farm field outside Treblinka, the winter wheat remembers. I want to remember but I cannot stroke the head of a young man whose bones mingle with his brother’s, countless others sharing a mass grave, his skull and brains painting the trunks of a nearby stand of trees. I want to remember but cannot hear the sweet tenor of the cantor whose tongue was torn from his mouth for refusing to speak of the tunnels beneath his once beloved Warsaw. I want to remember the lavender scent of the young woman, fresh from the showers but there is only the stench of putrid flesh and Zyklon, of bodies crammed into the converted boxcar. I want to remember the taste of a warm challah on Shabbat eve that she lovingly shaped into a braid and pulled from the oven, but her arms were neatly removed by the surgeon before she was cast naked into the Polish winter. I want to remember them all, their names in a memorial but they are only numbers tattooed onto endless arms. The candles die and their voices fall silent for yet another year.
First Appeared in Rattle, Issue 7, Summer 1997. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.
He watched as the flame licked at the lip of the candle, the wax slowly conceding and falling in, forming the cradle on which the flame danced. He wondered how something as simple as a wax cylinder could have an inherent knowledge of beauty and simplicity and yet he stared at it certain the knowledge was there. He dared not put out the flame for he could not deprive the night of this momentary beauty when it’s love, the moon had chosen to retreat leaving the stars to mock their small, immature brother.
It is the wet season when the rains wash the village carrying off the detritus of poverty. On the adobe wall of the ancient town hall some villagers say a face appeared one morning. To some it was the face of Christ to others that of an old man a former mayor, perhaps, to most of the tourists from the nearby resort no more than random discoloration of the aging plaster that clung to the beams by the force of will. They arrived by bus and rusting pick ups, bowed to the wall and reached out gingerly like children touching the flame of a candle. To the mason it was a job that would feed his family for another week.
First appeared in Erothanatos, Vol. 3, No. 3 July 2019, Pg. 40
Some, mostly of us, said we were the chosen people, as if wandering the desert for 40 years was the grand prize, okay of Sodom got the runners-up gift. I didn’t buy it then, don’t now, even after I sold my membership as the price of final freedom. No, we were, still are, the people of the candle and oil lamp, the latter far too sooty these days, playing hell with our smoke detectors. Two every Friday, and Hanukkah is good for forty-four, and on the anniversary of a death, just one, but that to burn a full 24 hours. So while our butchers fatten their thumbs for the scales, and our bakers tell their wives they won’t be home for dinner on Thursday nights, busy braiding dough, it is our candle makers who have chosen us as their kind of people.