ON THE ADDITION OF A BLACK CANDLE TO THE CENTER OF OUR ADVENT WREATH
For Tamir Rice and every person of color killed by police in such situations before and since.
What if this is a kind of sacrilege,
a friend asks—Christ, love, enough for our peace
and salvation, black candle distracting
from His white one. Yet Tamir Rice shines
as this hour’s reminder that black peace is
furthest from our country’s grasp, this candle
a lit testament that bowed heads, tithing,
and hymns, wept or sung, are not the only work
any faith expects us to give toward the peace we pray for.
Take up the cloth that needs mending.
Faith, yours or mine, like a sewing bird, will hold
one end as we pull the cloth taut and press the rent
edges together, torn fabric made whole only by stitching,
threaded needles rising through the smoky air.
Last December, following the gut-wrenching news of a grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who killed Tamir Rice, days after we’d lit our white Advent candle to prayers for peace, my wife and I, who are Unitarian Universalists, added a black candle to the center of our Advent wreath, burning both center candles until Epiphany. Weeks later, I wrote this poem to express my solidarity with people of color leading #BlackLivesMatter, a movement founded by Black queer women, a movement that calls on us to make real the unspoken premise that we all matter by shining an unrelenting light on injustices suffered by those in our human family for whom we most often fall short of this premise: Black people. Black women and girls. Black men and boys. Black people who identify as cis, trans, and genderqueer. Straight and LGBTQ Black people. As poet Staceyann Chin and other activists remind us, all oppressions are connected. I appreciate how essential the presence of non-LGBTQ people has been, and continues to be, in the work for LGBTQ rights. Support for Black Lives Matter from people who aren't Black is equally important. May we reach together through the smoky air and take up the cloth that needs mending. May our stitching bring the peace and justice we seek.
In terms of craft, the poem is a sonnet because sonnets are traditionally about love and because this form required me to be concise, and it’s in free verse so it sounds more like conversation. At the poem’s turn, the combination of its shortest sentence, a shift from declarative to imperative, and a period emphasize that now is the time for action. Framing the narrative within the context of faith highlights the dual nature of faith as a source of motivation to fight for justice and as salve when injustices continue, and creates tension with the poem’s assertion that building beloved community requires us to rely on each other as well as our faiths.