In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Marcus Chan's "Candle Piety," with commentary by the poet and by editor emeritus Li Chua.
From the poet:
Candle Piety was written right after my visit to the burial site of one of my family members. I remember waking up with haze burning in my eyes before the dawn to escape the late morning crowd. The burning joss seen through half-opened eyes made me think of a half-melted candle, which gave rise to my second stanza. I held on to that image all throughout the day as the ceremony went on - the remembrance of a person I couldn't realize fully anymore. But all around me were grieving people and I couldn't tell if they felt the same, if the people they mourned were real or nothing more than scattered memories. I struggled to frame what I saw and felt inside my head. And when I went home, I began to write.
From editor emeritus Li Chua:
What initially drew me to this poem? When I was reading it, I was struck by the very personal experience conveyed through this poem, and also, I really liked how the poem ended off, so what I mean by this is, the poem is very much the poet's experience on the Qingming Festival, which, for those who are not quite familiar with traditional Chinese festivals, is this traditional festival where usually families would go back to the grave site to pay respects to the ancestors. It calls back to a lot of the traditions that you do during that time, like burning the joss sticks, burning paper money for the ancestors, the prayers, and stuff.
I like that aspect, and I like that it was also paired with this kind of feeling of disconnect. The narrator's voice is very much going through the motions, but also half in and half out of his reality, almost a dreamlike state or in between reality and the afterlife. I liked that, and I liked how it came together in the end, the whole package of the poem, this person who is waking and not quite in and out, like he's participating, but also not there.
The title of the poem's called, "Candle Piety," which reminds of you of the concept of filial piety, which is this very Confucious concept of being respectful to your ancestors, and of all days, Qingming is one of the days where you really, really pay attention to your ancestors and stuff. But he's also unsure at the same time, so I liked the two sides, hand-in-hand, and how in the end, he ends off this kind of quiet lament of mourning those who have gone.
I really liked how it came together, because Qingming's to honor your ancestors, but it's also essentially the loss of the people who have passed on. It was really nostalgiac for me reading it, and it was also very beautifully, beautifully put together. It just calls the emotion very well. So that's why I picked it, and I'm glad to share it with the Strange Horizons readership.