Monday, December 6, 2010


I am sitting in front of fifteen candles—two menorahs, seven candles each plus one
shammes serving both. The bottom one features eight Klezmer musicians. The top one branches over them like an iron tree. It's the next to last night of Chanukah, a kind of guerrilla holiday about guerrilla fighters, the Maccabees, and one of those Wag the Dog stories—the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days—that was probably cooked up to fund-raise for the new temple. Still, it all adds up to a good sturdy story promoting light in a month of daylight deficit. The darkness is almost at the bottom of the well. Pretty close to welling up with daylight again, a minute amount per day, soon. Meaning we're at the far turn of the orbit, in the coda of the year.
What's a coda? An endpiece, a final bow. "Something that serves to round out, conclude, or summarize and that has an interest of its own." From cauda, "tail." Wagging the dog, like I said. The trees are bare; the weather lacks warmth. What decorations accrue is up to us, our invention: paper snowflakes, popcorn garlands, glass balls with deep blue and deep green and deep red reflections, like a tasteful Miss Rheingold ad in the fifties, when a set of Waterman fountain pens made a nice gift, or a carton of Lucky Strikes, or Johnny Walker, "still going strong," striding booted and tophatted and confident into 1959.

December is mostly night, mostly artificial light, candles arrayed in a row, dwindling, getting shorter, fizzling out. Ten left. Nine? No, I'm wrong. Little buds of flame, still hanging in there. Finally giving up in long sinuous farewell ribbons of smoke. More interesting in their coda than they were in their reign. Seven... Wick filament glows. Falls. No smoke! Five. Flame sinks. Flares up again. Dies twice, grabs at life, goes out. Three. Getting dark. Some smoke lasts a second, another sends up coils and arabesques for a full half-minute. Two. One on each side of the missing centerpiece. Both dimming to orange. Yellowing up briefly. Orange. One smoking now, but still lit. Unlit. Sunset. Followed a few seconds later by its twin, who goes in the exact same way. Done.