Every Saturday morning my mother would haul
us ten miles one way in a 1981 station wagon
to clean Trinity Episcopal Church. Before
turning on the ancient Hoover and making
a fan-pattern in the nap of the narthex carpet,
she’d stop to pray and light a votive candle.
Just tall enough to see, I would watch
my mother’s hands--red from mop water--
make a quick strike to light one match
and gently dip the flame to one, two,
sometimes as many as five votives
before the match burnt down
to where her fingers pinched wood.
Once, I tried to light my own when I was five.
Too close to the flame, I blistered my fingers,
dropped the match and stood in the darkness
sucking my fingers, red-faced with shame.
Twenty years later, I’ve learned where to hold
the match, that a deep breath is for steady
hands, but still, the most I can manage is two.