Admitted to the hospital again.
The second bout of pneumocystis back
In January almost killed him; then,
He'd sworn to us he'd die at home. He baked
Us cookies, which the student wouldn't eat,
Before he left--the kitchen on 5A
Is small, but serviceable and neat.
He told me stories: Richard Gere was gay
And sleeping with a friend if his, and AIDS
Was an elaborate conspiracy
Effected by the government. He stayed
Four months. He lost his sight to CMV.
One day, I drew his blood, and while I did
He laughed, and said I was his girlfriend now,
His blood-brother. "Vampire-slut," he cried,
"You'll make me live forever!" Wrinkled brows
Were all I managed in reply. I know
I'm drowning in his blood, his purple blood.
I filled my seven tubes; the warmth was slow
To leave them, pressed inside my palm. I'm sad
Because he doesn't see my face. Because
I can't identify with him. I hate
The fact that he's my age, and that across
My skin he's there, my blood-brother, my mate.
He said I was too nice, and after all
If Jodie Foster was a lesbian,
Then doctors could be queer. Residual
Guilts tingled down my spine. "OK, I'm done,"
I said as I withdrew the needle from
His back, and pressed. The CSF was clear;
I never answered him. That spot was framed
In sterile, paper drapes. He was so near
Death, telling him seemed pointless. Then, he died.
Unrecognizable to anyone
But me, he left my needles deep inside
His joking heart. An autopsy was done.
I'd read to him at night. His horoscope,
The New York Times, The Advocate;
Some lines by Richard Howard gave us hope.
A quiet hospital is infinite,
The polished, ice-white floors, the darkened halls
That lead to almost anywhere, to death
Or ghostly, lighted Coke machines. I call
To him one night, at home, asleep. His breath,
I dreamed, had filled my lungs--his lips, my lips
Had touched. I felt as though I'd touched a shrine.
Not disrespectfully, but in some lapse
Of concentration. In a mirror shines
The distant moon.
From The Other Man Was Me: A Voyage to the New World by Rafael Campo, published by Arte Público Press. Copyright © 1994 Rafael Campo. Used with permission.
While jogging on the treadmill at the gym, that exercise in getting nowhere fast, I realized we need a health pandemic. Obesity writ large no more, Alzheimer's forgotten, we could live carefree again. We'd chant the painted shaman's sweaty oaths, We'd kiss the awful relics of the saints, we'd sip the bitter tea from twisted roots, we'd listen to our grandmothers' advice. We'd understand the moonlight's whispering. We'd exercise by making love outside, and afterwards, while thinking only of how much we'd lived in just one moment's time, forgive ourselves for wanting something more: to praise the memory of long-lost need, or not to live forever in a world made painless by our incurable joy.
Copyright © 2010 by Rafael Campo. Used with permission of the author.
Arriving late, my clinic having run past 6 again, I realize I don’t have cancer, don’t have HIV, like them, these students who are patients, who I lead in writing exercises, reading poems. For them, this isn’t academic, it’s reality: I ask that they describe an object right in front of them, to make it come alive, and one writes about death, her death, as if by just imagining the softness of its skin, its panting rush into her lap, that she might tame it; one observes instead the love he lost, he’s there, beside him in his gown and wheelchair, together finally again. I take a good, long breath; we’re quiet as newborns. The little conference room grows warm, and right before my eyes, I see that what I thought unspeakable was more than this, was hope.