The Candle from the Cathedral is a rhyming poem written at the same time as another poem, Topeka (which is not on this site because it’s darker in tone).
Its rhyme scheme is ABCAABBCBCCA.
Candle tells the story of a young man coping with the death of a loved one.
In his memory he saw the old woman sucking her hankerchief in the pew.
The widow wore a funereal black bowler, a starched jib collar,
oval glasses with smoky plastic frames, and her hair spun white and curly.
She held a candle like all the others among the ranks of grievers, not a few,
stretching back to the entrance of the dark, arching cathedral sanctuary under whose
vaulted ceilings the sputtering flames flicked like constellations of stars.
He stood out in the cold and windfilled and trashfilled street filled with cars
and he saw through unfinished iron girders and steel transoms the dreadnought sky.
He saw the low, threatening clouds elbow the skyscraper bazaar.
He put his hand above his eyes and he squinted then he spit deliberately.
There was a punk nearby whom he once saw animaleyed with a switchblade in the alley
and the punk leaned against a building looking at him like a window to be looked through.
In his memory he saw the bell glass half full of the white willow and ethanol tincture,
the color of motor oil, that the old man swallowed as medicine in his last weeks.
The old man had kept the bell glass in his office in a cherry cabinet stained
dark red. It had lain behind handcut glass doors on a pad of velvety fur.
He turned and trotted down the subway tunnel steps into the city under
the city and he boarded the first train that came and stood and heard the car creak.
There were not many people in the car, just a seated woman with an antique
face whose nose was high and pinched and a man who looked insane.
He rode the car until the end of the line then stepped off and stood on the brick
platform waiting for the train to come back again.
A bag lady came up on the platform near him, nodding, chanting a weird refrain.
The train was a long time in coming. As he rode he felt nothing, no hurt or pleasure.
When he arrived back at his apartment he put the key in the lock and let himself in.
He had brought back his candle from the cathedral and he lit it and left it to gutter.
There was only one window in the apartment and rain began to patter against it.
When the flame goes out, he said to the candle, I’ll start to stop grievin.
He went into the bathroom and stripped off his clothes and stood thinking
under the hot shower as the bathroom filled with steam from the water
and he soaked until his fingertips looked like sundried fruit and fog coated the mirror
then he stepped out of the shower and dried and dressed himself and looked to see if the candle was still lit.
He laughed when he saw the flame creeping along the drapes and towards the furniture
and he kept laughing as the fire slowly crawled towards a black cabinet.
He debated awhile whether to let the fire burn, but chuckled and smothered it.
The candle he blew out, and it let off a silver stream of smoke snakelike and thin.