Last Rites

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Within his tent of pain and oxygenThis man is dying; grave, he mutters prayers,Stares at the bedside altar through the screens,Lies still for invocation and for hands.Priest takes his symbols from a leather bag.Surplice and stole, the pyx and marks of faith,And makes a chancel in the ether air.Nurse too is minister. Tall cylinders,Her altar-boys, press out rich draughts for lungsThe fluid slowly fills. The trick deviceKeeps the worn heart from failing, and bright dialsFlicker their needles as the pressures change,Like eyelids on his eyes. Priest moves in peace,Part of his other world. Nurse prays with skills,Serving her Lord with rites and acts of love.Both acolytes are uniformed in whiteAnd wear a holy look, for both are nearThe very point and purpose of their art.Nurse is precise and careful. She will failIn the end, and lose her battle. Death will blockThe channels of her aid, and brush asideAll her exact inventions, leaving priestTriumphant on his ground. But nurse will stareThis evil in the face, will not accept,Will come with stranger and more cunning toolsTo other bedsides, adding skill to skill,Till death is driven slowly farther back.How far? She does not ask. Priest does not fight.He lives through death and death is proof of him.In the perpetual, unanswerable whyAre born the symbol and the sacrifice.The warring creeds run past the boundaryAnd stake their claims to heaven; science drivesThe boundary back, and claims the living land,A revelation growing, piece by piece,Wonder and mystery as true as God.And I who watch this rightness and these rites,I see my father in the dying man,I am his son who dwells upon the earth,There is a holy spirit in this room,And straight toward me from both sides of timeEndless the known and unknown roadways run.

© Scott Francis Reginald