John Garth Raubenheimer
New Ambulance Man Receives a Blessing
When we found you at the Jesuit hostel in Booysens
You could still talk.
You said, 'The voices were so loud last night
I took fifteen stelazenes.
I've eaten nothing all weekend.'
You had your first fit in the ambulance.
I turned you on your side
And pounded your back to free your tongue.
The air went in in a sucking gasp.
The doctor at South Rand, a busy man
Left you with me.
Our driver was chatting up the nurses.
I noticed how shallow your breathing was
Before a fit.
'Charles, ' I said, 'Breathe deeply,
Soften your body, pretend you're going to sleep.'
I wasn't sure whether you heard me
But your breathing seemed better then
Your body more relaxed.
I said it again and again,
'Soften your body...'
The fits still came but they seemed
Less severe (I still had to free
Your tongue) .
An hour passed.
No sign of the doctor
I was getting tired.
Finally a message came.
We were to take you back to
You opened your eyes.
You said, 'I don't want to go back there.'
'Why not, Charles? '
'They shout at you there.'
It was a long, hard ride to Sterkfontein.
Once you took my scissors out of my pocket.
I prized them gently out of your
And gave you my pen instead.
You made stabbing movements with it
Prodding at your chest.
As we got nearer you grew
Quiet. The fits stopped. I had time to
A sparse beard. Tattoos. On one shoulder two
Lovers. On the other a
'I'm very cross with you, '
Said the ward-guard.
I thought of what you'd said,
'They shout at you'.
You looked at me, your eyes were clear.
'They don't trust me now.
They'll put me in a locked ward.'
'You'll be all right, Charles.'
You looked at me a long time. Your eyes were
'You've been with me all day.'
'I'll never forget you.'
'I'll never forget you, Charles.'
'You taught me how to breathe.'
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