Empress: A Survivor Lights a Candle

Empress 233.jpg

A Survivor Lights a Candle
During the Latin Mass for the Dead
Before the Main Altar
at the Sanctuaire Sainte-Anne
Pointe-au-Père

I am afraid of fire:

 in principio erat verbum /
in the beginning was the word.

 I am afraid of the loud voice of the match
scratching its sudden flare,

narrowing my pupils,
enlarging the whites of my eyes:

 et lux in tenebris lucet /
and light shines in darkness.

Booming and blooming,
igniting the soul’s dark night.

Voice of fire:

et Deus erat verbum /
and the Word was God.

 Flourishing to nourishment,
flames whispering on the flood:

omnia per ipsum facta sunt /
all things were made by Him.

Wool and water,
this sodden safety blanket;
and what of the cold plush

of the pliant teddy bear,
the staring eyes of the doll:

et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt /
and the darkness comprehended it not.

The lashes of their eyes
bound together with salt water,

they were doused in a silken mist:

hic venit in testimonium /
this served as a witness.

 Still the patterns pierce my sleep,
hauling me from my opaque dreams,

holding my wrists in this sailor’s double clasp:

 non erat ille lux /
he was not the light.

Oh! Curse these dumb waters rising!

“Not a hair on your head
shall be harmed!” he said,
hauling my sister up by her hair

only to find her staring eyes
belonging to the already dead:

et mundus eam non cognovit /
and the world knew her not.

Night waters rising.

The moon raising
its pale thin lantern glow:

et vidimus gloriam ejus /
and we saw His glory

 shining forth
upon the waters’
mirrored face.

11 thoughts on “Empress: A Survivor Lights a Candle

  1. “…I had no real answer at the tip of my tongue and the cultural ones and religious ones just will not stand up in our post-factual age.”

    I’ve been asked a question in the same vein, only with regards the KJV vs newer translations. My answer has always been that there are some subjects that are so serious, so meant to be unique from the mundane, that they MUST be expressed in the original.

    I never took Latin, and nor am I Catholic (though I have attended Mass with friends, on occasion), but I have also never entered a Catholic church that still inserted the Latin into their service, whereby I was not immediately struck with, “God is GOD here…He is to be approached with awe.” Few other denominations take that tack anymore, either.

    That being said, the ‘reading/response’ type inclusion in this piece places a sort of context on it. And I agree with Meg that, “This is a hand over heart and take a deep breath kind of poem.”

    It’s always hard to add a comment after your other readers. I’m always afraid of being redundant!

    Liked by 1 person

    • First things first, Pearl: I do not think that any comment you make will ever be redundant. As for the KJV, it is the poetry that helped form poetry and literature throughout the English speaking world. No one who translates the bible nowadays has the poetic gift of the original team of KJV translators — the meaning, yes; the poetry, the resonance, and the rhythm, no way. As for the Latin, I studied it in school and, without being an expert, I can manage certain texts. As for the Catholicism: well, I have studied French and Spanish literature and it is difficult to do so without picking up an understanding of the Catholic church and how it affected society. As for the Empress, these things all came together: English, Latin, French, Spanish, and even Catalan … I can’t explain why rationally: it just seemed right.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Tanya. I think the Old Latin Mass was probably based on the Vulgate and took its rhythms and intonations from there. That would reinforce what you are saying about the Psalms. Thanks for being here, Tanya. You encouragement and enthusiasm is always appreciated.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I will run out of ways to express my appreciation and admiration for these poems, I’m sure. Wow, again, Roger. This is a hand over heart and take a deep breath kind of poem. I love the Latin inclusions, it adds such depth to the poem. I hear this in my mind. Excellent!

    Liked by 2 people

    • There is a lovely, echoing effect to it, just like the old responses. I don’t know where it came from. As I said in the Intro: “The words of the Empress of Ireland are not my words. They could never be my words. Foundered words, they are, rescued from the beach, and dragged from the high tide mark filled with its sea weed, carapace, charred wood, old rusted iron, and bright bone of long dead creatures polished by the relentless action of wind, sea, and sand.” I discovered these words, waiting for me in my mind, and I do not know who or what put them there. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Very moving, Roger. The Catholic Church made great strides when it dropped the ‘Index Librorum Prohibitorum, but also lost a lot when it dropped latin from their services.
    You and I are both relics of an earlier age, when latin was not such a strange language

    Liked by 2 people

    • Back in the fifties, the Old Latin Mass bound Europe together in a way that the EURO and the EU were never able to do. I get the shivers every time I read this poem … I don’t know why. At a dinner party the other night I was asked: “But what good can Latin do any of us?” I had no real answer at the tip of my tongue and the cultural ones and religious ones just will not stand up in our post-factual age. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

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