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Poems for Advent 10

Carol Singers

They stand in a rough circle

beneath the unpruned pencil pines

and sing her down seventy years of Christmas eves.

Wind lifts the violin and carries its

faltering notes in the hands of the youngest child

into the falling evening. She is only memories.

Beneath the soft crocheted shawl

iron handled pincers of angina

draw long tight nails

that screech in broken breathing from her chest.

She has no illusions about the children

standing with guttering candles in the wind

their faces moist with a brief unseasonal

mist of rain and singing up to her with songs

as innocent as their unbroken voices

that assume somehow the world from one year

to the next will never change

that she will always look and be the same.

She watches the face of the youngest child

draw the bow across the violin

a last pure perfect chord.

The ceaseless pincers bite beneath the bones

the pain is nothing compared

with the patience in waiting for it again.

Two verses from three carols and their choruses.

The priest calls for quiet

and gives thanks for her life

but the unfettered door on the empty chicken coop

slams on his reverent words without respect.

She hears neither the door nor his words,

nor does she close her eyes

watching faces of the children eager to be gone.

Smiles at the gift of cake and card wrapped

in the crackling magic of Christmas cellophane.

Hers is their last call and she waits long after

they have gone beneath the unpruned pencil pines.

From her verandah and old cane chair

the customary watch of afternoon and early evening

she holds a brimming teacup of forbidden brandy

to the bright silver dive of stars.

Once a year she drinks to celebrate

what she once believed without question

and now has no answers for.

But this night is born again

with the illusion they hold of her

every year and this one the same

children sing Christmas

into the empty lonely sickness of her heart.

Jeff Guess


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