Published on Academy of American Poets (


Work out. Ten laps.
Chin ups. Look good.

Steam room. Dress warm.
Call home. Fresh air.

Eat right. Rest well.
Sweetheart. Safe sex.

Sore throat. Long flu.
Hard nodes. Beware.

Test blood. Count cells.
Reds thin. Whites low.

Dress warm. Eat well.
Short breath. Fatigue.

Night sweats. Dry cough.
Loose stools. Weight loss.

Get mad. Fight back.
Call home. Rest well.

Don’t cry. Take charge.
No sex. Eat right.

Call home. Talk slow.
Chin up. No air.

Arms wide. Nodes hard.
Cough dry. Hold on.

Mouth wide. Drink this.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

No air. Breathe in.
Breathe in. No air.

Black out. White rooms.
Head hot. Feet cold.

No work. Eat right.
CAT scan. Chin up.

Breathe in. Breathe out.
No air. No air.

Thin blood. Sore lungs.
Mouth dry. Mind gone.

Six months? Three weeks?
Can’t eat. No air.

Today? Tonight?
It waits. For me.

Sweet heart. Don’t stop.
Breathe in. Breathe out.


"Heartbeats" from Love's Instruments (Tia Chucha Press, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Melvin Dixon. Used with the permission of the Estate of Melvin Dixon.


Melvin Dixon

Melvin Dixon was born on May 29, 1950 in Stamford, Connecticut. He received a BA from Wesleyan University in 1971 and a PhD from Brown University in 1975.

Dixon authored two poetry collections, Change of Territory (University of Virginia Press, 1983) and the posthumous Love’s Instruments (Tia Chucha Press, 1995). The latter was published with the guidance of Elizabeth Alexander, who was the editor of the press at the time, and its founder Luis Rodríguez. Dixon was also the author of the novels Vanishing Rooms (Cleis Press, 1991) and Trouble the Water (Fiction Collective 2, 1989), and the translated work The Collected Poems of Leopold Senghor (University Press of Virginia, 1990). He was highly regarded for his works on African American literature, which included book reviews and the textbook Ride Out the Wilderness: Geography and Identity in Afro-American Literature (University of Illinois Press, 1987). His poems were included in Joseph Beam’s groundbreaking anthology In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology (Alyson Publications, 1986).

About Dixon, the poet John Keene said, “He emerged at a time when out black LGBTQ writers and writing were still relatively rare but beginning to come into our own [...] In terms of aesthetic excellence and prodigiousness, his work offers an aesthetic model for new and emerging writers.”

Dixon taught English literature at Wesleyan University from 1976 to 1980, when he joined the English faculty at Queens College. He received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984. Dixon died of  AIDS-related complications in Stamford on October 26, 1992.

Date Published: 2017-01-23

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