Unknown Hwy 14 and Kinzing Ln., Richland Co. [Lat: 43.287587, Long: -90.316748]

Elegy at Advent

It’s Advent and we are in the big dark that comes before the return of the light. No matter how many candles I light in my windows or friends I gather round the table, I cannot keep back the night that falls inside me, dense and muffled as the velvet curtains that cut off the starry backdrop on the grade school stage the night of the holiday pageant.

It’s Advent and I am nine and my mother dies again, as she does at this time every year, the cancer that will claim her filling her lungs with water, the weeks before Christmas swept clean as a cold hearth, hope-ghosted, blank with loss.

It’s Advent and I am too young to understand that promises can be broken, even when people want them to be true. My mother doesn’t come back by Thanksgiving, but my father swears she will be home for Christmas. Believing in magic, I start to make her gift.

It’s Advent and I tear twelve-inch squares from an old sheet into what I imagine will be “linen” napkins, each embroidered with her initial – “M” for Mommy, though it works for Mary, too, her name the same as the Queen of Heaven’s. I choose thread the color of the birds with sky on their shoulders. I work for hours on the project, love a lamp we carry, showing the way forward, even when it can’t guide our loved ones home.

It’s Advent, and though it is fifty years since this story started, I feel it begin again, the thin, gold-edged pages turning, my body a book that knows this season by heart. Again and again, the girl stabs the needle through the white cloth. Again and again, I fit my fingers around hers, pull the blue thread tight and fast.

Alison Townsend
first published in Brevity