Sister Monica and Greenfield
"Sister Monica" they said in Norwegian
I cannot translate,
I don't know how they discovered my name
But I know the sound of "help me."
They need help, these Norwegian people
From the ship Allegheny.
They came across the ocean,
Down the lakes called Great they came,
Bringing with them wisps and vapors
Humors and sickness, chills and fever.
That tinged their skin green.
Typhus, cholera the outcome the same for many:
Death and burial in the lakeshore sand.
The mayor of Milwaukee, he asked us to care for them
We went down to the Milwaukee River
Early every morning while the birds sang with sleep in their voices,
All day we nursed the 260 sick people
Until the sun sank into the lake
Beyond the river.
The souls of 200 people
Continued their journey beyond the sky
We nursed the 60 left.
Weak, pale, tired they still breathed.
One, a family with land outside the city,
Greenfield they pronounced the name
Like the heaven they had so narrowly escaped.
The father, tall, his beard coming off in patches,
Pressed the hand of his dying wife, "Remember Greenfield," he said.
A child 7 or 8 clung to her mother's arm,
Crying, "Mama don't leave us."
The mother died, the word "Greenfield" on her lips.
A captain from the steamer St. Louis,
Arrived at our hospital.
His green eyes glazed with fever and dreams.
"Since 1818 I been on the lakes," he said
In accented English.
No questions asked of him,
We bathed and sponged him,
Trying to melt away the fever.
But it took hold stronger
He told us about the girl waiting for him
Pacing the widow's walk curled around a house In Fairport harbor.
It faced the lake and so did she,
Every waking moment
Searching for his return.
Only when he eyes were clear
Did he tell me that she
Long since had married someone else.
"The years crawl by when you wait for someone", he said.
Then his eyes heated up again,
And he spoke of whaling voyages
And pirates and the winds of Lake Superior,
The fierce storms of Lake Erie,
And the curling of green Milwaukee harbor waves
Around Lake Michigan.
But this time it wasn't so safe for him.
I closed his eyes
Folded his hands on his chest and prayed for his soul.
The little girl came over
She looked at him and said,
"He's sailing with Mama, isn't he Sister?"
I nodded, brushing my hair from my green eyes.
A cool wind was blowing in from the lake.
"Father, let this voyage to heaven be short and safe,
Lead him into green pastures and beside still waters.
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