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Candle queens remembered

By | 2011-08-25T09:00:00-04:00 August 25th, 2011|Opinions|

Parting Glances

“I’m burning my candle at both ends. It will not last the night. But, oh, my foes, and, ah, my friends. It gives a lovely light!”
These words are by bisexual poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), the subject of the fascinating best-selling biography, “Savage Beauty,” by Nancy Milford (Random House). Her poetry – touching, independent, light, feminist, sardonic – is once again reaching new, younger, audiences, many LGBT.
My acquaintance with her poetic gifts began with the sonnets. When I was getting over my first “big affair,” I memorized Millay’s “Time does not bring relief/ All you have lied who told me time would ease me of my pain./ I miss him in the weeping of the rain/ I want him in the shrinking of the tide.”
Pain indeed. I was 23 and into my third year of a rewarding affair when I was dumped by my partner Ernie for a soldier on leave named Joe. As a keepsake memento Ernie gave me a two-record LP recording of Tchiakovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty Ballet.” It was elaborately packaged in silver lame wrapping.
(I never played the damn thing. We didn’t speak for nine years. The last time we got together, a few years back, was in celebration of his mother’s 100th birthday. Ernie’s living somewhere in Florida, president of VAI: Video Arts International.)
Soon I met new friends at the Woodward Bar, circa 1959: Tom, Paul, and Jonya, each of whom I found out was a bona fide candle queen. My first dinner in their company was midsummer. It could just as well have been Christmas for all the flickering-fairy, highlighted enchantment I walked in to.
I think I counted three dozen candles of varying sizes, shapes, scents in strategic places of the living room. The effect was wonderful, but I began to worry. Was a group seduction planned? Was all this flicker and flare to enhance the taste of mediocre food? (Another tuna casserole!) We’re we going to have an impromptu rosary?
The simple truth is that these guys loved candles. Jonya, who was Dutch, took pride in a family heirloom, once hidden during the Nazi occupation of his country. He called the silver candle holder a “SHANdalabra,” which made his lover Paul smile indulgently. (Jonya was also given to saying, “Vell, Paul, I yust jurn for you.”)
I think I saw Jonya genuflect as he lit the candles gracing the dining table. A carpenter by trade, his rough hands loving arranged flowers as well, of which there was also an abundance on display that festive night.
Tom, who was with Paul before Jonya (and the son of a Detroit precinct police captain) took pleasure in an elaborate dime store-bought fountain in the living room. He called it Miss Trevi. It held plants, glass beads, ice cubes, gold fish. The water color varied from day to day, party to party, frequently augmented by leftover Manhattans.
Little wonder that Miss Trevi gurgled, occasionally burped and wheezed. Compliments given to this bubbling contraption usually resulted in amply free-poured drinks by proud-owner Tom.
Alone in my cluttered art studio these days I often light a candle and watch shadows dance softly, silently, swiftly, on my wall. Images of the past appear; wink, and vanish.
Paul has been married for 37 years to Susan, “an understanding wife.” Jonya died of a heart attack aboard ship during a return visit to Amsterdam. Tom, who in 1972 was told that because he had an abused pancreas his next drink “would be it,” ignored the warning. He was 36.
Me? I’m still burning my candle at both ends. But, if you really must know, well, my vanilla-scented wick has somehow grown shorter. But it flickers ever so brightly.

About the Author:

Charles Alexander