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Poem: "The Candle Burns Not for Us" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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Poem: "The Candle Burns Not for Us"
This poem came out of the December 6, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from Dreamwidth user Dialecticdreamer.  It also fills the "loss of vision" square in my 6-16-15 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest.  This poem belongs to the Dr. Infanta thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.  It immediately follows the first half of "Die Faltenlilien,"  so read that first.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
So far sponsors include: DW user Dialecticdreamer, general fund, technoshaman

FULLY FUNDED
176 lines, Buy It Now = $88
Amount donated = $77
Verses posted = 42 of 51

Amount remaining to fund fully = $11
Amount needed to fund next verse = $.50
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $.50


Warning: This poem is intense, containing images that readers may find disturbing.  Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers.  It features war, Dr. Infanta struggling to cope alone after all her Guardians died, the aftermath of a terror weapon, Dr. Infanta finding Aidan, severe burns, two traumatized people trying to take care of each other, substantial angst, hardcore hurt/comfort, and other challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before clicking through.


"The Candle Burns Not for Us"


Alicia doesn't get far from
the deadly German camp before
she stumbles over the stranger.

He looks like a revenant from
the old stories -- his body curled in
on itself, face set in a ghastly grimace --

but alive.

She can feel, dimly,
a sluggish flow of energy
under his skin, struggling
to restore him.

Curious, Alicia crouches
beside him to see if she
can help. Dark curls of skin
peel away at her touch, like
the time her brother had fallen
into the hog-scalding cauldron.

Underneath, the skin is shiny,
mottled white and pink, like that
of a burn victim. His eyes, when
she checks them, are so hazed over
that she can't even find the dark spots
which should be in the centers.

Tufts of auburn hair come away at
her touch, and Alicia is fascinated to find
that they're nappy, a combination of
soft springy texture and rich color
that she has never seen before.

The burns are worse on his right side,
and Alicia thinks it might have been
turned toward the blast, whatever it was --
in places it looks like the Germans have
taken a branding iron to him, everywhere
the joints stick out from his body.

Something about the stranger
pulls at her, and it's not just because
she has lost all her Guardians and is
desperate for company; his energy
riffles along hers, bright and vital
even in its depleted state.

She doesn't know why he's different.

Everything around them is dead,
yet still perfectly formed, the flowers
wilted and the insects fallen still.

Alicia wonders if this happened to him
because he was closer, or his power
somehow interfered in a way that
trapped him inside the blast
instead of cutting him free
from the grip of his body.

There is no way to know, and
she has more important things to do.

She goes back to the German camp
and shamelessly raids it for more materials:
a tent, tools, extra food, medical supplies,
and a wheelbarrow to haul it all.

Alicia is stronger than she looks.

By necessity, they travel downhill,
because that way she can guide
the wheelbarrow with him in it.

When they come to a creek, she
makes camp. She cleans him up
as best she can, scrubbing off
the thick layers of dead skin
like the worst sunburn ever.

She concentrates on shoring up
his heart and lungs, healing the skin
enough that it doesn't leak, and rebuilding
the little cups that will grow eyelashes
and eyebrows to protect what's left
of his eyes. The rest must wait.

Alicia knows when the stranger
wakes, because he begins to whimper.
His voice is shrill with pain and confusion,
like a wounded puppy, and it hurts her ears.

She touches his forehead and turns off
the nerves that carry pain, but he
doesn't stop the awful keening.

Well, that's peculiar.

Alicia lets go of him, and
the desperate noises quiet
to something uncomfortable
instead of agonized.

She sits back on her heels
and waits to see what will happen,
as she eats beans out of a can.

It is not until after she has
finished eating and put away
her mess kit that she feels
a soft brush of power.

The touch feels warm and fuzzy,
like a shawl draped over shoulders
aching from too much work, and
even the raw wound of her heart
seems to feel a little better.

Alicia turns her mind inward
and strokes her power along his --

and is suddenly elsewhere.

She is standing in a field of
vivid green grass that slopes
gently down toward fluffy trees
with a glint of distant water
between them, and she is
up to her arse in wildflowers.

"Hello," someone says,
and she whirls around.

The man is strong and healthy,
his skin the rich red-brown of
coconut fiber and his springy hair
a brighter shade of auburn.

He smiles at her, but there is
something old and solemn
hiding within his eyes.

"Who are you? Where is
this place?" she demands.

"My name is Aidan," he says.
"This place is one of my memories.
I thought it would be easier to get acquainted
inside my mind, since my body seems
to be ..." He wavered a hand in the air.
"Not much use at the moment."

"Whatever hit you, fried most of
your body," Alicia says. "I've fixed
what I can for now, but it's going
to take a long time to do the rest,
if can be repaired at all. Sorry."

"I am grateful for your help," he says.
"Though I do wonder who you are?"

She hesitates, nibbling on her lip.

For a long time now, she has been
Dr. Infanta; but in this moment, in
his memory of soft sunlight and
dancing flowers, she wants to be
just Alicia again, for a little while.

The stranger waits, patient as a lake,
until she says, "My name is Alicia,"
and holds out her hand to him.

He doesn't take it, explaining,
"When I touch people, I can feel ...
everything they are, if I'm not careful
to shut it out, and right now I don't
have the strength to do that."

Alicia thinks about all the horrible things
that she has done, that have been
done to her, that she is, and it's
no wonder the poor man was
crying when she touched him.

"Okay," she says. "I'll try to avoid it,
but your body still needs looking after."

"We'll manage somehow," he says.
"I always do, one way or another."

Alicia can feel that in him, something
deep and wide and infinite. He's so heavy
in her head, and she doesn't know why,
but it makes her want to lean on him.

"Maybe," she says, "we can help each other."

"I'd like that," Aidan says. He reaches out
to touch her cheek, and that fleeting contact
makes him flinch, but a little of the misery
lifts away from her spirit. "Time to go."

And she's back in the musty tent
with a quivering man on the bedroll.

Alicia smoothes the blanket over Aidan,
then gently arranges his body into
a more comfortable position.

She rinses out the bean can,
then lights a candle and uses
the empty can as a holder.

Aidan makes a faint, questioning noise.
After all, they aren't going anywhere.

"The candle burns not for us,
but for all those whom we failed
to rescue," she says softly.

Aidan hums agreement, and when she
lies down beside him, his hand moves
blindly, just enough to take her own.

* * *

Notes:

"The candle burns not for us, but for all those whom we failed to rescue from prison, who were shot on the way to prison, who were tortured, who were kidnapped, who 'disappeared'. That's what the candle is for."
-- Peter Benenson

Superpowers featured here include Immortality, Regeneration, and Healing.  A peculiarity of the Sterbenfeld device is that it kills cleanly; even Alicia revived with no physical injury.  But Aidan was horribly burned.  Since the methodology of death via Sterbenfeld is the direct severance of soul from body, and Aidan's superpowers are related to the soul or shamanic fields, then the cause of his unusual injuries may lie somewhere in the interaction of spirit energies.  This is uncertain because the Sterbenfeld device can be built but is not fully understood, and Aidan's abilities greatly predate anyone's conceptualization of superpowers, let alone the modern versions.  Superpowers make everything less predictable.

(Some of these links are gross.  The ocular burns are especially disturbing.)
Burns require different care depending on their severity. Superpower healing of catastrophic injuries should attend the most serious first: vital organs, then the skin as a protective envelope, then other protective structures. A bad sunburn may peel deeply, not just a thin surface layer but thick scales; worse burns may remove the pigmented layer entirely, which sometimes leaves pale scars on dark skin. Ocular burns often impair or destroy vision. Blindness sucks but is not fatal unto itself.

(These links are hideous.)
The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki left great devastation behind.  Survivors had horrific radiation and thermal injuries.  Particular to this atrocity were pattern burns.  Some people had designs burned into their skin where dark areas of cloth absorbed more radiation or white areas reflected more.  Others had burns on exposed areas of skin which were worse on the side facing the blast and worst of all on raised areas such as joints.  The latter is closest

See Aidan's wildflower meadow.  He has a lot of nice places to go in his mind.  He needs them, because many other memories are not nice at all.

(Many of these links are stressful.)
Overwhelming experiences can cause traumatic stress. War brings all kinds of trauma such as gas, bombs, and torture.  These often leave people with PTSD. Adverse childhood experiences can cause developmental trauma disorder and other long-term problems.  Understand how to heal from trauma or help someone else through it.  Here is a workbook on overcoming trauma.

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16 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
thnidu From: thnidu Date: December 18th, 2016 05:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, that meadow is lovely. Yes, it is a very good place for them to meet.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: December 18th, 2016 06:08 am (UTC) (Link)

• 100 vivid green grass that slopes
> Line number out
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 18th, 2016 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)

Fixed!

Thanks.
From: technoshaman Date: December 18th, 2016 06:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, oh.

What was Alicia's birth tradition? Because what came to me wasn't the Catholic or Lutheran word, but the Yiddish word: Yahrzeit. Memory candle.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: December 18th, 2016 07:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Yahrzeit is specifically the anniversary of a death, on the Jewish calendar--the date on the common or Gregorian calendar can vary by a month or more from year to year. Literally, 'year time' our 'time of (one) year'.
More generally, Yizkor (lit. 'remembrance') prayers for the dead are recited four times a year, on specific dates.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: December 18th, 2016 08:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Yahrzeit, lit. 'year-time', is the anniversary of a death, reckoned by the Jewish calendar. The candle is called a Yahrzeit candle or Yizkor candle: Yizkor (lit. 'remembrance') prayers are recited four times a year, on specific dates.
From: technoshaman Date: December 18th, 2016 07:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, oh.

What was Alicia's birth tradition? Because what came to me wasn't the Catholic or Lutheran word, but the Yiddish word: Yahrzeit. Memory candle.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 18th, 2016 10:00 am (UTC) (Link)

Hmm...

I'm not sure. Likely it was some form of Christianity, because she was born in Europe about 700 years ago when that was pretty popular. But Alicia was a peasant girl and probably had very little actual exposure to religion until later. It may be that folk beliefs were more salient to her awareness. Since then she's gone through all kinds of things, probably including Judaism.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 18th, 2016 05:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Whew.

Pulls no punches, this one. But in a really good way. I've noticed that things that are disturbing as hell in theory are, in practice, as disturbing as the amount of emotional investment I let myself have; in fiction, that's related to my trust in the author, my investment in the characters, the way the setting and tone shape the connotations of serious events, and the way I personally do or don't care about the topic(s) discusses. This one mattered to me. I'll need to go back and reread several times now to process.

--alatefeline
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 18th, 2016 07:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> Pulls no punches, this one.<<

I did my best to convey that in the warnings. Did I miss any that would have been helpful?

>> But in a really good way.<<

Yay!

>> I've noticed that things that are disturbing as hell in theory are, in practice, as disturbing as the amount of emotional investment I let myself have; <<

To some extent this is true for me; it's a malleable part of the range. Mood is another variable, and what I use warnings for when I'm reading. There are also things I never want to read.

>> in fiction, that's related to my trust in the author, my investment in the characters, the way the setting and tone shape the connotations of serious events, and the way I personally do or don't care about the topic(s) discusses. <<

Agreed. I am flattered by how many people will follow me into very challenging areas.

>> This one mattered to me. I'll need to go back and reread several times now to process. <<

I'm glad you found it so moving.
From: technoshaman Date: December 18th, 2016 09:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, oh.

What was Alicia's birth tradition? Because what came to me wasn't the Catholic or Lutheran word, but the Yiddish word: Yahrzeit. Memory candle.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 18th, 2016 11:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Hmm...

I would suspect Christian, as that was popular in Europe ~700 years ago. But it may not have made much impression on a peasant girl at first. She might have had more awareness of folk traditions. Later on she would've had more exposure to churches. I imagine that she's also familiar with Judaism, Islam, and other world religions.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 19th, 2016 05:39 am (UTC) (Link)
I think this may be the first time I've come across your Aidan character, and as sad as this meeting is, it's nice that Aidan can bring Alicia into a happier memory. Anyone who interacts with Alicia interests me, there's so much potential among all your characters, but an Immortal child is someone whom I can very much get my head around. Thank you for posting.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 19th, 2016 05:46 am (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

>> I think this may be the first time I've come across your Aidan character, <<

He was originally made by DW user Dialecticdreamer, who has written many stories about him. Aidan appears in a fair number of my poems, although I don't have those gathered into a thread yet.

>> and as sad as this meeting is, it's nice that Aidan can bring Alicia into a happier memory.<<

Yay!

>> Anyone who interacts with Alicia interests me, there's so much potential among all your characters, but an Immortal child is someone whom I can very much get my head around. Thank you for posting.<<

I'm glad you found this so moving. I like Alicia because she is so powerful and yet so vulnerable. You can learn a lot about people by how they treat her.
je_reviens From: je_reviens Date: January 1st, 2017 11:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know the context here but I still found it very interesting.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 1st, 2017 08:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well...

It explains how Alicia and Aidan met in WWII. There are later poems about the two of them. The only additional context earlier in this timeframe is "Die Faltenlilien" which explains the Sterbenfeld device.
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