This is one of the five poems included in my book, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days.
How You Looked (Manhattan VA Hospital, AIDS Unit, Spring, 1990)
David, let me wash and cool
your swollen feet while you’re awake
so nothing can get worse, at least
for now, at least not here where we
are so alone, the nurses masked,
reluctant to come in the room.
I’d almost tell you how you looked
asleep, all afternoon,
your body on a boat
losing course, slipping over fish, the sun
a yellow wine that whispered
in my head to let you drift.
I watched your face fall fully
open, saw your sheets come loose
and drop apart, your body a mirage,
your belly hollowed-out and vaporous,
your penis arched and cool
dozing there, flawless in the glare.
The sound is just the rush
of water and a washcloth
in a bowl. Tell me if it feels too hot
or cold. You’ll feel my fingers
run across your toes so thick
I’ll never pass a towel through. Your skin
is breaking up like desert floor,
no longer big enough to hold you in.