John Garth Raubenheimer

(21/12/1947 / Johannesburg)

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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
In Casualty,
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.
'Breathe deeply',
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
Two hours...
I was getting tired.

Finally a message came.
We were to take you back to

You heard.
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
Study you:
A sparse beard. Tattoos. On one shoulder two
Lovers. On the other a
Child praying.

We arrived.
'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
Clear, clear.
'You've been with me all day.'
I nodded.
'I'll never forget you.'
'I'll never forget you, Charles.'

'You taught me how to breathe.'

Submitted: Saturday, March 24, 2007
Edited: Saturday, March 22, 2014

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

I'm sorry to tell you that Johannesburg's Ambulance Department was a segregated service. I tell myself I was only a couple of weeks on the road - but...Well, at least I have Charles.

Comments about this poem (New Ambulance Man Receives a Blessing by John Garth Raubenheimer )

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  • * Sunprincess * (12/15/2013 7:13:00 PM)

    you have a wonderful writing skill....and this poem was like
    living the moment with both of you...I am in awe... (Report) Reply

  • Geetha Jayakumar (12/15/2013 10:11:00 AM)

    Beautiful write, though a sad one. The way you have put up this poem is really captivating. Thank you! (Report) Reply

  • Tony Karas (12/15/2012 6:49:00 AM)

    Wow! I am left speechless. This was totally awesome and puts it all in perspective. (Report) Reply

  • Michelle Melody (1/21/2009 4:14:00 PM)

    You made me cry... and your heading says it all, YOU received the blessing, is it not strange that something as small as spending time with someone, just telling them to breath could be such a blessing. Helping is receiving... (Report) Reply

  • Melvina Germain (3/25/2007 10:43:00 AM)

    The gentleman was truly blessed, due to the teaching of the new breathing tecnique he can take himself away to a place of peace and tranquility. This is a sad but beautiful poem John, I truly enjoyed the read. Thankyou--Melvina-- (Report) Reply

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