"Give me oil in my lamp,
keep me burning, burning, burning,"
we belted out on the Baptist church bus
bound for Camp Born Again,
refueled forever we knew for the faith
with the oil of the holy. Hallelujah!
Through the cracked, creaky
bedroom door of Aunt Martha's farmhouse,
we watched the pyx-eyed priest
choreograph his prayers, bend half-way down
for our uncle's sin and sickness,
smear his forehead with the grease
we wished on the hinges and the Holy Father's
When, that same second,
our uncle coughed, a great ratling fit
clacking the four-poster against floor boards,
and the priest's thumb slipped,
and oil oozed along the web of wrinkles, down
toward my uncle's one unhearing ear, onto the pillowcase
—the perfect circle of lubricant—we knew
the petitiion was heard
The wheezing stopped when he died.
In middle age,
I am the ailing one,
the father's hand beneath my Father's:
vestibule of oil poured upon my head.
Oh to hear once again
in the liquid on skin
the purity of the perfeect one,
to smell in the pores the apostolic ointment,
the balm for the no-longer banished,
the penitent prodigal
annointed for death, for life.