First I think of it as a factory
where the foreman’s passed out drunk
in his high room with the little window
while the radio slides into static
and down below no one gives a shit
about pride in labor considering what they’re paid
so one by one they’re taking off
their goggles and aprons and building a huge
bonfire in the center of the room and banging
the metal carts against each other while a few
holdouts stay grimly at their tasks
and try to ignore the din. But that’s
mechanical and wrong so I close my eyes
to try again: your body is a vase of flowers,
their brown stalks slick in the fetid water,
the shrunken tissue of the petals falling
on a scarred table beside an old couch —
stained, burn-holed — a sunken shape in a darkened
living room. Outside is the worst
section of the city, figures hurrying into doorways,
up to no good, random gunshots and exploding glass,
alarms, alarms — amazing what the mind can do
and still fail to absorb the plain fact
of you, railed-in and dying.
In this nearly sterile room
there are no ways to imagine
your thin form beneath the covers, your face
I now bend close to kiss,
and whatever I make of the grief
that’s coming, it won’t change this, this.

This poem originally appeared in Things Shaped in Passing: More “Poets for Life” Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (Persea Books).

— Ed.