Pachi’s Lights

By James Penha

“Beauty is truth, truth Beauty,” Keats’s immortal Grecian urn says so simply. “That is all” an urn “may need to know,” retorts the poem’s very human speaker, but the “generations” of men and women know also the “woe” of dying and death.  And thus Keats faces, as he does in almost all of his poems, that awful paradox: a life lived forever is not a life; it is a still life; it is an urn; it is an idea; it is art.

The paradox deepens, of course, when we talk of John Keats in the present tense although he died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five in 1821. He lives, still, in each of his poems.

Poetry--reading it, writing it--allows us in some miraculous way to give life even as we mourn the loss of life.

Writing a poem is a strangely selfless act, I think. Although the motivation for starting a poem is often a deeply personal feeling of loss or pain or confusion or joy that must be expressed, the poem will make its own demands on the poet. The poem wants clarity; the poem wants beauty; the poem wants to become a medium through which one individual experience can be communicated over miles and years to be felt by unknown “generations.”  And so the poet must come to care more about the poem than about the intimate emotion that gave it inspiration. In this way, poetry heals--not by disremembering, but rather by revising memory into a palpable presence.  One that can be shared. Poetry immortalizes.

Pachi’s Lights is a poem about a parallel work of art and remembrance: a Christmas wreath through which a grieving survivor is moved to reshape permanently the handiwork of a lover profoundly missed. The resulting artistry at the horizon of the dusk of the dead and the dawn of the living enlightens a community.

The events of the poem are true, related to me by one of the principals. Even though I was not present physically for the moments narrated, the poem called me to write it. I was its tool. Fearful of intruding on the biographies of real people, I altered all the names as I wrote. When I had finished what I thought was the final draft of Paco’s Lights, I asked my friend John to pass it on to Jimmy. Would he mind if I offered the poem for publication? I asked. Some days later, I received the typescript back. All the aliases had been lightly crossed out and replaced in Jimmy’s hand by “Mrs. G” and “John” and “Peter” and “Jimmy” and “Pachi.”  Here they all are, still:


Pachi's Lights  

Pachi’d died in April
so Jimmy decided against
images of Decembers’ nights
hoisting lights,
holly and mulled wine with
friends and neighbors.
Pachi hadn’t the strength for any of it
last time; he couldn’t even
see the lights
on faces forgiven for feigning

Off the elevator Christmas eve,
Jimmy saw
upon his apartment door
a simple wreath, green
and real.
From across the hall, Mrs. G peeked out,
“I hope you don’t mind,
but to me your home, Pachi
and yours, it’s just
such a part of Christmas.  I couldn’t . . .
I hope
you don’t mind.”

Jimmy shook
his head.  He turned the key.  He
looked for the light.

Later, Jimmy knocked on Mrs. G’s door.
“I mulled some wine,” he said.  “Share it
with me.  Please.”
      As she followed, Mrs. G noticed
new little lights adorned the wreath.  “But,
Jimmy, where are the wires?”

“None.  Just tiny batteries or
computer chips or some such Pachi could explain.
He ordered them from a catalog.
They didn’t come
in time
for last year’s Christmas.
I thought the wreath
might enjoy them.  Have
some wine.”  They drank.
“And look what else I found.”
He held a Christmas tree
made of mirrors
triangulated, pink.
“Pachi’s mother made it for us”
even as he answered the doorbell.
      Peter and John:  “We love it.
On the mantle please!  And here we thought
you’d need elves like us
to reflect Christmas!”

By midnight, the place was packed
with Pachi’s pals and lights
and Garland singing, “Make the yuletide gay.”
      “It’s Christmas,” someone said.
      “It’s not the same.”
      “Of course not.  But
see the tree;
it’s Christmas
just the same.”


Author Biography
A native New Yorker, James Penha teaches at the Jakarta International School in Indonesia. Among the most recent of his many publications are a story in Columbiaand poems in Thema.A new chapbook of his selected poems is available from Pudding House as part of its “Greatest Hits” series honoring the work of small-press poets. If you wish to contact James, please send email to us at and we'll forward your messages to him.

Loss  | Vashon | Services | Art | Poetry | Store | Contact

© 1999 KotaPress All rights reserved.  ISSN 1534-1410
Please direct comments regarding this web site to