Benedicion In Room 28, an old woman perches on her bed stiff with fear. She licks crooked, gold-filled teeth, spews Spanish words of sorrow that fall like tears. I hold out my hands like sieves dripping syllables, say No comprendo. Ah, she makes the sign of the cross. Her long fingers reach for mine. She smiles around my tentative use of dolor and las flores, words spoken on this dusky evening eventual night will extinguish. She enriches me--reveals me to myself growing in a dawn garden where zinnias reach for the sun with mariachi arms, where clicking beetles make music far sweeter than excuses of language blooming, then fading, in our hands. I breathe in this gift of recognition from a bent-over woman whose heart bursts with words needing no voice, spilling from her eyes into mine, dancing now beneath our fingers, affirming that we are kin, breath of feathers on my arm, whispers in my soul.
The memory of the elderly Hispanic woman's shining eyes and her touch stayed with me for weeks. So did her smile. I wrote this poem to remember the special feelings I had when I thought about her. And to remind me of the connections we all want to make with our patients--connections of caring, respect, and service. * Writing this poem was an affirmation of something I have long believed and seen: we are all connected, whether or not we share the same language. We can let lack of a common language divide us and keep us apart, or we can find interpreters or take instruction in the language. When there isn't "touching" with words, we can go beyond language to physical touch, to the sparkle in the eye, to the smile, and to the mysterious and very real connection we have to each other as human beings.
LIANNE ELIZABETH MERCER, RN, MSN, CPT, is one of the contributors to The Poetry of Nursing: Poems and Commentaries of Leading Nurse-Poets, edited by Judy Schaefer and published by The Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio, 2006. Ms. Mercer, a certified poetry therapist, has taught psychiatric nursing at San Jacinto College in Houston. She currently facilitates caregiver groups at the Methodist Healthcare System in San Antonio and presents poem-making workshops for RNs and therapists. Her book, Compassionate Witness: Before We Say Goodbye, was published by Barons Creek Press in 2005. "Benedicion" was also published in The Healing Environment Without and Within (GB: Royal College of Physicians, 2003) and is reproduced with permission of the author. Ms. Mercer's commentary is reprinted with permission of The Kent State University Press.