(From Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days)
April dusk drained, while I was out,
into your mouth, the black
collapsing cave, your glottis ticking off
last swallows of the day. You watched tides
receding, patterns on the rug
recounting dreams, frail fingers
fingering cold fences
that held you in your bed.
Coming in with sheets
and pillows from Delancey, I smelled your skin
beleaguered., tasting itself, falling
away, the smell of fruit
rotting in a bowl, unnaturally sweet.
The nurse dismissed, I prematurely lit the room
with candles against night.
Then night began, a shadow
lapping in the shallow moments. Rats
and pigeons rustled, pestilent,
trapped in walls; open windows lifted tongues,
sending quiet cadenced prayers
to infiltrate God’s monotone. Your eyes,
slow fish, slid in wide ellipses
while I prepared us for the caterpillar ride
to dawn. By nine I lay
against your back between the rails, your muteness
sharp against murmurs from the street,
against the muffled rush of breeze
through pale fingers of new leaves. Hooded figures
flickered and bowed
in gestures of atonement on the walls.
There was nothing to do
but wait. I lay you down. Sometime that night
your whisper broke
an interval of sleep. I need,
you said. I waited while
you shook it from inside your head.
I need someone
to hold my breath for me. That night
I never slept again,
imagining you driving on some prairie road,
your arm dancing in the wind outside the window
with the rhythm of a country song.
I warmed your back curved hard
against sleep, passing the hours preparing
for the time that we had left.