What Was, Never Was

Devout small child, sought cave
lit by red-orange candle flames,
mysterious grotto somehow carved
into side of large gothic church.

Dark stone curved inward
away from gold tabernacle,
winged angels and all the saints
beside mother Mary, gowned in blue.

Solemn under flickering shadows,
knees on kneeler, eyes squeezed shut.
Surely god listens, even to the young
deep within this special place.

Why did I return after decades away?

Priest stands at makeshift altar
watches people, back to tabernacle,
shining not. Statuary stands about,
coarse in detail. And there. . .

dim plastered niche. Grey stones layered
upon layer of faux black, some askew
like mislaid bricks. Yellowed plastic electric
candles flutter, dull and duller.

This off-to-the-side
push-a-button prayer place
is not, and never shall be
what was for me.


Written for Wednesday Poetics, dVerse Pub for Poets. If you’ve not checked it out, this is a wonderful virtual spot — great group of folks — and always interesting challenges. Today, Mary tends the “bar” and talks about rooms, citing some wonderful poetry, and asks us to write about a room we remember. I did return to this place of my childhood some five years back. I wished I had not. So many things seem so large and magical when we are young. Somehow with height comes a different perspective. Photo Credit: Therese Branton.

40 thoughts on “What Was, Never Was

  1. thefeatheredsleep February 17, 2016 / 11:13 am

    This really made me sad in a quite wonderful way, because it opened up the thoughts that usually are idle and uninspected, and took me into a very deep place and the sadness I felt was one of knowing, and insight, rather than melancholy, perhaps you were able to be insight without even needing to say it. Just wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 17, 2016 / 11:39 am

      Thank you for sharing this response. “…sad in a quite wonderful way…” What very good words.
      So very glad you liked this post.

      Liked by 1 person

      • thefeatheredsleep February 18, 2016 / 4:30 pm

        I really did Lillian because you were not afraid to go there and it had such power ♡

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Melinda Kucsera February 17, 2016 / 12:09 pm

    This poem speaks to a deep part in is that yearns for the divine and fails to find it in the plastic candles and the plaster saints

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 17, 2016 / 12:36 pm

      very good insight here…….so happy for your read in this way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Melinda Kucsera February 17, 2016 / 11:33 pm

        You’re welcome 🙂 That was what struck me about the poem.


    • lillian February 17, 2016 / 12:37 pm

      Thanks much. I truly did love the feel of striking the match to light the votive candle in church. Somehow, depositing your dollar and then pushing a button to see an electric light pop up doesn’t carry the same spiritual lift.


  3. Misky February 17, 2016 / 12:42 pm

    Those plastic candles just being an element of falsehood into the mix that’s counter-productive, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 17, 2016 / 2:58 pm

      I think I understand what you’re saying here. For me, when I went back to what I remembered as a very special part of my childhood chuch ( the building), the replacement of beautiful candles with plastic ones was the biggest disappointment. Counterproductive to “lighting a candle” for someone which is what I always do when I visit churches. And these had been there for quite a while as the plastic was indeed yellowed. The metal box to put in your money was the same, but once the coins dropped into the metal box, you simply pushed a button and a light would appear at one of the candles — timed I’m assumed so it would go out to have another person touch its button….rather than the flame burning and flickering until it dripped down, spilling your prayers in wax..


      • Misky February 17, 2016 / 3:07 pm

        Well that just sounds wrong to me. Push buttons don’t belong in church. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

      • lillian February 17, 2016 / 3:08 pm

        I agree!


  4. Mary February 17, 2016 / 12:43 pm

    We are always searching for meaning, i think. Whether in the churches of childhood or in the revisits as adults. I think that we often hope something will have changed. It is sad when it doesn’t, but I do think that the search is lifelong & there will be yet another chapter!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 17, 2016 / 2:51 pm

      I agree. For me…..I wanted it to be as it was….I wanted it to seem like the special place it was for me so many years ago…a cave that I could escape to. And when I went back to my childhood church (I’m speaking of the building itself), it seemed so small and the cave so small and not really a cave at all. I just don’t think you can, as the saying goes, step in the same river twice.


  5. Sumana Roy February 17, 2016 / 12:46 pm

    an interesting contrast between the two time and space…love both the world created…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Em February 17, 2016 / 1:00 pm

    You have a great ear. You’ve made this a pleasure to read by choosing just the right words and setting them in just the right places.

    I keep reading the first stanza over and over because the sound is so captivating.

    I also love this phrase: “dim plastered niche”

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 17, 2016 / 3:01 pm

      Interesting to read your comment here. I always write, then read aloud and edit and read aloud and edit. Reading aloud is a major part of how I write. But then I’ve always been an “oral” person…former debater, teacher and all! My favorite words with my children when they were very young, prone to a high pitched yell or scream of unhappiness or anger (in the 2 to 4 age range) was “use your words.” And I also used to coach individual speech events — which is all the spoken word. So for me, starting to write poetry in Feb 2015, it meant putting down on paper what was to be the oral word! 🙂
      So glad you liked it! I do appreciate your kind words!


  7. Björn Rudberg (brudberg) February 17, 2016 / 1:57 pm

    So often the magic from childhood is broken when coming back… I resonated both with how it’s seen with a child’s tinsel eyes and with the grown up sense for faux illusions.. Life is a little bit of both.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 17, 2016 / 2:53 pm

      Exactly! A child’s tinsel eyes — what an apt description here. 🙂 Thank you, Bjorn — you’ve really picked up my feelings when I revisited this place.


  8. Victoria C. Slotto February 17, 2016 / 3:25 pm

    Those sacred places of our childhood change and develop and, it’s true, we can’t go back. And yet, there may be something about them that lingers inside of us and it is within ourselves that we will find the answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 17, 2016 / 5:12 pm

      So well said, Victoria. This piece has generated a lot of comments — so interesting to see where a piece of writing takes people — and a prompt too!


  9. Linda Kruschke February 17, 2016 / 4:01 pm

    Places of our childhood are often not the same. Recently I went on Google to do a street view of the street I grew up on and it looked so different. You did a great job of bringing us to this room then and now. Peace, Linda

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 17, 2016 / 5:14 pm

      oh my Linda….what is not said in this poem is that on this revisit to the town where I grew up, I drove by the old house which I remember in such a different way from how it appears now…alas not painted for many years, front porch steps falling down when I remember playing jumping games on them…….sometimes it’s really best not to travel back — to leave the memories intact.
      Glad you enjoyed this one……

      Liked by 1 person

  10. navasolanature February 17, 2016 / 6:28 pm

    Lilian, this is so beautifully written and expresses that loss of the magic and perhaps we should never go back!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 18, 2016 / 7:55 am

      Thank you so very much for the read and kind reply. I did learn…..best to keep those memories sometimes within the photo album 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Grace February 17, 2016 / 7:01 pm

    I was disappointed when I came back too as things are really different when you are now an adult ~ I am sorry that things didn’t turn out what you imagined or remembered as a child ~ I like your perspective from past to the present ~

    Good to see you Lillian ~

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 18, 2016 / 7:43 am

      Thank you, Grace. Ah….the magic of childhood. Photographs keep that intact….sometimes better to cherish the photograph that to revisit the actual place.
      I do enjoy this group, Grace!


  12. Gabriella February 17, 2016 / 9:40 pm

    Sometimes memories are better left untouched, lest we might destroy them by revisiting the places where they were born. Time makes its own transformations without our realizing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 18, 2016 / 7:43 am

      You’ve said it so well here, Gabriella. Many thanks for the read and your reply. Truly appreciated.


  13. Bodhirose February 17, 2016 / 11:36 pm

    I love how you paint the contrast of what you experienced as a small child and then was disappointed in the changes when you returned to your former church. The bubble of your memories burst and you were left with disappointment. I too find the plastic candles and electronic button pushing a bit offensive…or is that progress? Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 18, 2016 / 7:45 am

      Thanks for the read and reply. No….somehow I don’t think it’s progress….not too much spirituality in a push button plastic candle…at least, not for me. That was the hardest part. And sadly, I’ve seen this “modernization” in other churches as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade) February 18, 2016 / 4:21 am

    Oh dear! But keep those memories strong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 18, 2016 / 7:46 am

      Good morning, Rosemary. Yes, indeed. I have some old photos of me as a little girl at this church — those will be what I’ll treasure. They keep the memory intact 🙂


  15. georgeplace2013 February 18, 2016 / 6:23 am

    Makes it feel a little artificial… like plastic flowers. You did a great job in contrasting through a child’s eye and the adult reality. I think basically we want or maybe need, a bit of the mysterious and personal in our spiritual relationships. Not George Jetson’s world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 18, 2016 / 7:49 am

      Exactly. Thanks for the kind words and your take on this. For me, it’s the quiet and hush and slowness of that holy place…the striking of the match to add to the flickering prayers of others. Not the push button electric candle….that just doesn’t cut it. Funny isn’t it….plastic flowers are artificial too and I love the fresh flowers that sometimes adorn a church. But at Christmas time….for those who celebrate this season…our church has live poinsettias but artifical greenery — and that artificial greenery doesn’t bother me a bit. But it looks real. The little pushbutton on the fake candle…nope.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. katiemiafrederick February 24, 2016 / 12:53 am

    Push button candles
    Push button priests..
    Push button
    hmm.. sand
    iS mY church
    wheRe now
    spiRit oF
    sand to me..:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian February 24, 2016 / 6:57 am

      Oh yes, Katie! When I am alone on a beach, it is a very spiritual place. Especially at sunrise! 😊😎

      Liked by 1 person

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