Twelve stories up and you ask me why the candle on the countertop burns for so long
You watch it flicker, steeped in its own oil, and you ask how come it isn’t thin and red
Standing in an eight-branched lamp on my windowsill
When it’s really nine branches, one for each miraculous night
And one for the work that sets them aglow.
Twelve stories up and there’s a candle on the countertop, a red light plugged into the wall,
Hebrew you can’t read along the paper wrapping,
And you don’t understand why the flame burns for so long, but I understand.
You turn away, but in the candle on the countertop twelve stories up I watch as centuries
Melt down into the wax at the bottom of the dish
And pour decades of struggle and sweat and slave masters and train cars into the scalding liquid
Holding the wick afloat through the hours.
You ask why I wear long skirts, say funny words, eat different foods, sit through unending ceremonies And services that mean nothing to you,
But I understand the words we say and the rituals we keep and the reasons for the foods we eat
And the clothes we wear,
I hear the cries of a thousand generations before me in every song
And in the candle I see their pleading, begging us to say the words, wear the clothes, eat the food
One more time, because they lost their chance.
Twelve stories up, the candle on the countertop sends a strand of smoke into the air
And it dispels into nothing so quickly,
But not quickly enough that I miss the heat and sand and dust
Of Egypt, of Sinai, of Canaan, of Jordan East and West,
Or the chilly soil of Siberia, of the Ukraine, of Czechoslovakia,
And the passion of those who wandered in the millennia before we were born.
Twelve stories up, the candle on the countertop burns after the festive lamps have extinguished
And Sabbath lights have flickered into nothingness.
Twelve stories up, and from the bars of iron and panes of glass, from the precipice of the skyscraper,
The candle dares you to tear our fabric, crush our foundations, break our bonds
In the twenty-five hours it will take to burn out.
Laugh when you watch our slender candles fade away in half an hour,
But you will never put out the flame burning low in its metal container,
And you’ll never reach the light above our holiest gifts.
Twelve stories up and there is an ancient melody whispering around the edges of my mind
Even as the candles in the window burn out.
The fire of our past, our history, our ancestors,
The fire of our traditions and losses and triumphs,
That fire burns away from the panes of glass and the rest of the world
And it sponges up the darkness of thousands of years.
Twelve stories up and I dare you to put that fire out —
You’ll never reach it. I promise.