The Little Candlestick Girl
by James Coburn

Little Anna sauntered alone
Down snowy streets of cobblestone.
In old Boston, she wandered far from home.
Her threadbare mittens were patched with frost,
While she carried candles to sell for a trifle cost.
The wind pursued her, restless and free,
While whistling through the branches of every tree.
And little Anna sauntered alone
Down snowy streets of cobblestone.
She was haunted by her mother’s words,
“Pray for us Anna, for there’s no food in our house —
Not a lump of sugar, only a pesky mouse.”
In their cold, stony room in 1871,
For Anna, her widowed mother awaited,
Poking last bits of firewood
As flames abated.
Jenny hoped for her daughter’s peddling to be done,
As shadows crossed their rose-colored room
With the setting of the sun.
Golden hair dangled across her fevered brow.
Her dead husband left them only
Bright-colored candlesticks,
Scented with honeysuckle
After flaming the wicks.
A red candle burned on the table.
The beautiful mother had sold her husband’s
Wax labor when able.
But for days she had become weak and pale.
She thought,
“For now my blessed angel must prevail.
Perhaps this night before Christmas,
Our dreams will take sail.”
And she was a little anxious
As golden rays of light
Vanished into violet night.
Pressing her flushed cheek
On a sweating window pane,
She wondered if Anna’s life
Without a father would ever be the same.
The red candle dropped wax tears
Under a dancing flame.

Outside, down corridors to a bustling street,
Wandered Anna with a promise to keep.
“With father’s passing,” thought Anna
Amid winter’s gale,
“I must help momma. I cannot fail.
And with Christmas coming, I must bring her cheer.
I hope someone buys my candles,
Before night is near.”
She cried, “Candles, candles for your nightstand.
Momma is faint at home.
Please help us to be happy —
We’re on our own.”
Her tiny feet grew cold
And her face was frosty red.
Long flaxen curls fell windswept down her head.
Passing a storefront window,
She saw beyond the reflections
Of her tattered dress,
Two figures shopping. Why they stared at her,
She could only guess.
“Just look at that urchin. Oh what a mess,”
Said a well-to-do woman with gifts to spare,
To her cozy little daughter
With tightly curled hair.
“I could never look like her,”
Said the girl. “Could I, mother?
I’m much too fair.”
Anna smiled at the girl as the mother
Abruptly whisked her daughter away.
Only the china dolls seemed to offer to play.
“Oh well — I have promises to keep,”
Thought Anna. “I dare not stay.”
Strangers passed her, short and tall.
Carriages swept by the 6-year-old,
Not noticing her at all.

From around the alley
Came the charity orphans,
Caroling songs of mirth.
“Please, dear God,” she said,
“Bless those boys and all others like them
Upon the earth.”
Her whispers puffed like clouds
Vanishing into the breeze,
As the Christmas carols put her at ease.
“I’ll buy a candle with scented smoke,”
Spoke a handsome blond sailor,
Fresh off the boat.
He pressed some pennies into her hand.
For Anna, life had never been so grand.
She skipped away, dancing into night,
Forgetting the darkness, feeling so bright.
But suddenly she was lost.
Nothing familiar was in sight.
Anna clutched her pennies
And tightened her shawl.
“I’ll buy some bread for momma
And hope her fever will fall.”
She opened the creaking door of a bakery,
With chipped white paint.
Donuts, yeast rolls, cakes and bread,
Were an answered prayer in the little girl’s head.
“Sorry little one,” the old baker said
With an apron dusted in flour.
His face was well fed.
“Sorry little one. You’ll have to go home.
I’ve closed my shop. Don’t stare at me —
Just leave me alone.”
A single tear dropped from Anna’s blue eyes.
She thought, “I can’t find my way home.
Momma will have no surprise.”
Snow was falling, blanketing the street
And left tiny imprints of her dainty feet.
“Candles, candles with scented wick —
Momma needs me. I must get home quick.”

Her mother was wise and though very sick,
She hastily swept over her shoulders
A scarlet cloak, as she heard the mantle clock
Tick, tick, tick.
Jenny searched the alleys and the old stony square,
But nowhere in sight was her angel so fair.
Her face burned under an icy stare.
“I’ll find my angel. Beyond that, I don’t care.”
Anna crossed an old wooden bridge,
As a stranger pursued her from over a ridge.
His bellowing footsteps crushed her tiny prints.
He thought, “She doesn’t know I’ve followed.
I’ve given no hints.
She must have money in her pocket — there.
I intend to have it and as for her — beware!”
As Anna approached a dreary old moat,
The bells of the North Church Tower suddenly woke.
“Home can’t be too far from me,”
She whispered, seeing tall ships
Drift off to sea.
As the scoundrel’s grungy scarred face
Approached her shoulder — so near,
Anna’s mother arrived without warning or fear.
“Anna,” she screamed. “Stand behind my back.
And you, Sir, don’t provoke this desperate
Mother to attack.
Do not underestimate my strength and resolve.
I’ll be your match, though man you may be.
I’ll protect my angel.
We shall pass free!”
One eye glared from under his ashen brow.
He wanted to profit, though he wasn’t sure how.
His ruddy complexion had seen better days,
And he lunged at Anna’s mother in Boston’s haze.
Jenny twisted her cloak around his neck.
She panted, “Anna, run to the shipyard.
Find help on the deck.”
Anna soared like the wind on a strange trek.

But before she ventured 50 yards away,
A candle wick flared in a window near the bay.
A British sailor called her name.
“Little girl, you sold me this flame.
Why are you here? You look lost and cold.”
Anna pointed towards the hill
At her mother — so bold.
The sailor’s green eyes grew fierce with stealth.
And he swarmed the hoodlum
Whose dagger flung with lust for wealth.
Down a slippery ice trail, the thief faltered
And disappeared.
The sailor said, “Your daughter is safe
From the pirate she feared.”
Chris covered Jenny in his warm woolen coat,
Carrying her home with strong arms,
Missing his boat.
Anna felt his radiant charms.
As he laid her courageous mother to bed,
His love spoke in volume without a word said.
The little candlestick girl
Reached into the hearth
To spark a candle flame,
While praying for her mother,
This new love to remain.
Jenny smiled at Anna,
With eyes transcending pain.
Jenny soon fell into a deep comforting sleep.
Anna kissed her joyfully
And curled up beside her,
While sending a prayer for God’s keep.
Chris left them for one hour — alone.
Returning before daybreak with food
For their home.
On his back was carried a fresh-scented
Christmas tree,
He propped it before the window
Before they would waken to see.

Checking Jenny’s fever, Chris gently
Pressed his hand to her face.
She stirred and murmured,
“We thank you friend for your kindness and grace.”
“But it was you who saved your daughter,”
Said the sailor.
“Surely the heavens declare for you a glorious place.”
“But I already have an angel,” said Jenny
As her fever lifted without a trace.
Chris closed his eyelids, then parted them wide
As if to free the loneliness of a great divide.
He said, “Before I crossed the sea of blue
There never was one as beautiful as you.”
Then, slowly rising from her bed,
Jenny reverently lifted her head.
Across the room she would see
Her little girl’s eyes twinkle with glee.
There holding a flickering orb of candlelight,
Her eyes sparked enchantment into the night.
As Anna knelt in fervent prayer,
Her voice enveloped the air.
“Thank you God for Christmas. ’Tis one I shall hold dear.”
Suddenly, Jenny was filled with cheer.
From over the rooftops, cathedral bells began to play;
And as Christmas lit up, a jewel of a day,
A family was born —
The sailor would stay.

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James Coburn is an Oklahoma poet, photographer and journalist. His first book of poetry, "Words of Rain," was a 2015 finalist for the Oklahoma Book Awards. His work has appeared numerous anthologies. A long­time journalist for The Edmond Sun, Coburn is a 2013 inductee of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.