My First Candlelight Vigil

by Dustin Michael

ON cue, we intertwined our arms
and nearly sat ourselves ablaze,
and waited through the long-tolled dongs
that symbolized the dead.

A girl I didn't know, on my arm,
would not let go to wipe her tears.

This, our stiff, sweaty palmed silence,
our hesitance to glance aside,
reminded me of a movie date
from junior high,
except for all the grief,
the guy fixed to my other arm,
and the abundant open flame,

which, the student government president announced,
''symbolically spread from a single spark
uniting us all against the dark.''

It was my first time, but I wasted just a minute
working up puns on vigil
and virgin. Then I noticed we'd lit
our tiny candles smack
in a clock tower's shadow.

Wordplay and irony — dead
giveaways of an English major.
Better cool it, I thought.

But even if it was my awkward first,
at least I wasn’t all alone. A girl
two rows up dripped wax
on some guy's Birkenstock, looked up,
apologized, almost scorched
his t-shirt sleeve.

With fire and bells came angry prayers
— the angriest I'd heard in years —
and selfish ones which offered praise
for the mere fact that it hadn't been us,
although it surely could have been.

I confess I felt blessed
it hadn't been me,
and thankfully left there free of scorches,
but I, an English major, puffed
my little candle out with quiet,
echoed sorrow,
and one new prayer:

God, keep
these sparks
away from torches.

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