At the Altar of the Virgin by Kim Cope Tait

A hundred hopes flickering
beneath the altar of the Madonna,
fresh flowers arranged at the foot of her image.

Seen like this, just beyond flames and behind glass,
I see what it might have meant to be the mother of God.
To be God herself—how do they not see it?

At her breast, the Christ child, soft infant flesh
beneath her warm hands. A man busies himself
with collecting the candles no longer burning:

he discreetly scoops them up and drops them
into a linen sack. He looks meditative, solemn,
like he knows the import of his task:

what it means that another candle has sweated itself
into oblivion. Intricate waxen flower that remains
on a metal base, having swallowed its own wick.

And as he moves down the line, the light of prayers
moves across his brown face, warms his forearms
as he reaches across it. He appears like a ghost

among the faces hovering above this collective fire.
They are hopeful, afraid to not be heard but willing
to chance it. You, Mary, Mother of God,

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