Poems for Advent 10
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.