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).