Over the Ocean

At the doorway to the hospital room,
gleaming, high above southbound traffic
on Lexington, I catch live coverage
of Mandela’s release from Robben Island,
Winnie and Nelson hand-in-hand, cheered,
waving. I, chaplain on call, turn
towards the bed to celebrate history
in the making. The woman’s eyes
seek mine. Her breath pads
lightly, like a cat kneading, pawing,
perspiration sprinkled salty
on her upper lip. Low in her chest,
a gurgle. I squeeze her hand,
clammy. With my other hand,
I press the button for the nurse,
grab a tissue to dab her forehead
and neck. Her wide green eyes begin
to glaze, soften. I remember she has no
family here, think of her Irish lilt. Her name,
Bonnie. I can’t summon that blessing,
the one about the road rising, the wind
at your back. I sing instead.My Bonnie
lies over the ocean…Oh, bring back
my Bonnie to me.The TV streams
dancing in Capetown, the trilling
crowds jostling their moving car.
Two nurses fiddle with machines
and measurements, glossy white
cords governing life and death. You look
like a deer in the headlights, one says.
Your first? I shake my head no, as I remember
singing my mother across, singing
to keep terror confined, on an island at bay.

The Point