In Defense of “Candelabra with Heads”

If you’ve read the “Candelabra with Heads”
that appears in this collection and the one
in The Animal, thank you. The original,
the one included here, is an example, I’m told,
of a poem that can speak for itself, but loses
faith in its ability to do so by ending with a thesis
question. Yeats said a poem should click shut
like a well-made box. I don’t disagree.
I ask, “Who can see this and not see lynchings?”
not because I don’t trust you, dear reader,
or my own abilities. I ask because the imagination
would have us believe, much like faith, faith
the original “Candelabra” lacks, in things unseen.
You should know that human limbs burn
like branches and branches like human limbs.
Only after man began hanging man from trees
then setting him on fire, which would jump
from limb to branch like a bastard species
of bird, did we come to know such things.
A hundred years from now, October 9, 2116,
8:18 p.m., when all but the lucky are good
and dead, may someone happen upon the question
in question. May that lucky someone be black
and so far removed from the verb lynch that she be
dumbfounded by its meaning. May she then
call up Hirschhorn’s Candelabra with Heads.
May her imagination, not her memory, run wild.

More by Nicole Sealey

Even the Gods

Even the gods misuse the unfolding blue. Even the gods misread the windflower’s nod toward sunlight as consent to consume. Still, you envy the horse that draws their chariot. Bone of their bone. The wilting mash of air alone keeps you from scaling Olympus with gifts of dead or dying things dangling from your mouth—your breath, like the sea, inching away. It is rumored gods grow where the blood of a hanged man drips. You insist on being this man. The gods abuse your grace. Still, you’d rather live among   the clear, cloudless white, enjoying what is left of their ambrosia. Who  should  be  happy  this  time?  Who  brings  cake  to whom? Pray  the  gods  do  not  misquote  your  covetous pulse for chaos, the black from which they were conceived. Even the eyes of gods must adjust to light. Even gods have gods.

Clue

i.  

“Hands down, mustard
is the tastiest condiment,” coughed Professor Plum—
his full mouth feigning hunger for the greens-
only sandwiches Mrs. White
laid out for Mr. Boddy’s guests. Miss Scarlet
hadn’t time to peel off her peacoat

before the no-frills food, which she declined, and a pre-cocktail
cocktail, which she accepted. Colonel Mustard
refused all fare, citing the risk of sullying his scarlet
and gold Marine Corps suit, then ate the sugarplums
that happenchanced his pockets like lint. Mrs. White
funneled the motley crew into the green- 

house, where Mr. Green
was rumoring—his hand bridging his mouth to Mrs. Peacock’s
ear in an effort to convince the white-
haired heiress that the sandwich-making maidservant must’ve
poisoned their plum
wine. Mr. Boddy’s award-winning scarlet

runners initially amused Miss Scarlet,
the way one is amused by another with the same name. Mr. Green
thought it odd Mr. Boddy didn’t show, told Professor Plum
as much. “Here we are, pretty as peacocks,
and our host is nowhere to be found,” twirling his mustache
like the villain in a silent black and white.

Minutes into the conservatory tour, Mrs. White
introduced Mr. Boddy, who lay facedown in a scarlet-
berried elder. “This man,” Colonel Mustard
said, “is dead. I know death, even when it’s camouflaged by greenery.”
The discovery proved too much for Mrs. Peacock’s
usual aplomb—
           
she fainted into the arms of Professor Plum.
When she came to, he appeared to her the way a white
knight would look to a distressed damsel. Semiconscious, Mrs. Peacock
pointed to the deceased’s pet Scarlet
Tanager perched on a lead pipe between the body and a briefcase gushing green-
backs. Right away, Colonel Mustard 

mustered up an alibi about admiring Mr. Boddy’s plumerias.
Mr. Green followed suit with his own white-
washed version involving one Miss Scarlet and a misdemeanor plea copped…

ii.

“Dinner is served,” said Mrs. White,
inviting Mr. Boddy’s guests by their noms de plume
into the dining room for a precooked
reheated repast. Miss Scarlet
passed the pickings, which didn’t pass muster,
to a rather ravenous Mr. Green.

Nobody faked affability better than Mr. Green,
waving his napkin like a white
flag, acting out the conquered in Colonel Mustard’s
combat stories. Here was Professor Plum’s
chance to charm a certain lady, catching what he called scarlet
fever. “I’ve seen more convincing peacocking

from a tadpole,” quipped Mrs. Peacock,
retiring to the library, green
tea in hand and a tickled Miss Scarlet
in tow. Mr. Boddy’s absence was so brazen it bred white
noise not even tales of exemplum
heroism, narrated by and starring Colonel Mustard,

could quiet—his presence, by all accounts, as keen as mustard
and showy as a pride of peacocks.
Like a boy exiled to his room, Professor Plum
excused himself, giving the others the green
light to do the same. Mrs. White
was in the kitchen scouring skillets

when she heard who she thought was Miss Scarlet
scream. Mr. Boddy’s musty
old library was a crime scene, his final fall on this white-
knuckle ride towards death. “For the dead,” Mrs. Peacock
said, “the grass is greener
on the side of the living.” While plumbing

Mr. Boddy’s body for clues, Professor Plum
found no visible wound—the would-be host appeared scarless,
despite blood haloing his head on the shagreen
rug and a bloodstained candlestick Colonel Mustard  
recognized from dinner. Mrs. Peacock
avoided the sight, turning white

as the sheet with which Mrs. White covered the corpse. Plum
sick of the “poppycock” accusations, she sped into the starlit
night in a ragtop mustang belonging to Mr. Green.

Legendary

You want me to say who I am and all of that?
                Pepper LaBeija

What girl gives up an opportunity
to talk about herself? Not I. Not today.
I won’t bore you with my biography—
just a few highlights from my résumé.
I don’t aspire; I’m whom one aspires to.
The most frequently asked question isn’t
WWJD? It’s what would Pepper LaBeija do?
Really the question should be what hasn’t
she done? I’ve been walking now two decades
and got more grand prizes than all the rest.
I hate to brag, but I’m a one-man parade,
Jehovah in drag, the church in a dress.
Outside these walls I may be irrelevant,
but here I’m the Old and the New Testament.

Related Poems

Black Laws

Fuss, fight, and cutting the huckley-buck—Dear Malindy,
Underground, must I always return to the country of the dead,

To the coons catting about in the trees, the North Carolina pines
Chattering about sweetening bodies in their green whirring?

Do these letters predict my death—some sound of a twig
Breaking then a constant drowning—a butter bean drying

Beneath my nails? Casket, rascal, and corn bread cooling board.
Dear Malindy, when the muskrats fight in the swamp I knows

It’s you causing my skull to rattle. You predicted my death
With my own baby teeth and a rancid moon beneath our legs.

No girl, my arm still here. The antlers on the mantle yet quiet.
All the ocean’s water without me and yet in me. Never mind,

Malindy. They already shot the black boy on the road for dying
Without their permission. Yes, gal, I put on my nice suit. And wait.