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Monday, October 20, 2014


(This is a new segment of Ravine, following the piece yesterday about Asha going missing and how I held a candle at her vigil service).

        Of course, it’s not entirely true about the candle: writers don’t tell everything all at once. It’s part of the ancient conjuring-trick, the smoke and mirrors of language, out of which the wisp of an image appears. I did use the candle in its original form at the vigil, but the flame kept going out during the service and I finally held it unlit. The watermelon-pink wax felt greasy, as if made of fat and not paraffin. Sometime during the next week, I stored the candle on a kitchen shelf, close to a window; summer heat melted the oily wax and sunlight bleached it an ugly grayish mauve.
       Recently, I picked the candle up again from the shelf, polished the dusty glass container, and put it in a shallow pan of water, to melt the wax down again. As it liquefied, I took a fork and retrieved the wick; then I dropped candle dye and beeswax granules into the container and stirred; the wax took on the “ashes of roses” hue: pink with just a hint of gray. I placed the wick and put the candle aside to harden.
       Next, I made a color print of Asha, a favorite which illustrates one of the most striking things about her: no picture of her seems to show exactly the same person. I’ve seen about a dozen photos now: Asha jumping on the bed in a hotel room, remote control in hand, hair flying upwards; Asha wide-eyed, smiling into the camera, hair in a pixie cut; Asha on her wedding day, delicate strands braided on each side of her head and pinned; Asha in khaki coveralls and a matching cap, standing in front of an autumn tree in full leaf-flame. It’s as if certain features are highlighted in each one: smooth, straight hair, brows in such a perfect arch that I wonder if she had them done, a tender, smiling mouth. The portrait I chose for the candle had been taken by her husband: Asha looks directly at the camera, intensity simmering in her expression, hair tucked behind her ears. She looks as if there is a question she might want to ask, one that hangs in the air, forever unspoken.
       I cut out her printed picture and glued it to the candle’s glass container; on the other side, I pasted one of the Virgin of Czestochowa, the Black Madonna with her double-scarred cheek and spangled midnight veil, her child cradled in her left arm, both heads surrounded by a nimbus of weathered gold. People risked their lives in occupied Poland to venerate this icon, slipping through fields under cover of darkness. It is said that Saint Luke painted it on a tabletop that belonged to the Holy Family, that the slashed cheek, from a sword strike by Hussites, proved impossible to fix. Mary gazes out of the picture, expressionless except for the sorrow in her small dark eyes.
       Then, I surrounded each portrait with a glitter frame: magenta for Asha, dark green for the Virgin of Czestochowa. When I lit the wick, they seemed to float, hovering over the reservoir of liquid wax
       I flanked this candle with two Polish funerary lanterns, ovals of deep amethyst glass embossed with tapered petals.  On All Saints Day, there is a tradition in Poland of lighting thousands of these lanterns in cemeteries, in different shapes and every color imaginable.  These burn all night, making graveyards into a luminous river, a path for souls to navigate.
      This is how I invoke Asha, call to her across time and loss, as I did in the days after she disappeared: “Where are you? What has happened? Where on earth have you gone?”