Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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He’s a young artist. AIDS. Six months tops
—attending nurse

In a borrowed room in Chelsea, that first visit,
he made me instant coffee, stirred in the cream
with his index finger. He could still make out shapes
and colors, and he squinted hard, as if trying to see
if I’d drink what he’d touched.

He kept the TV on the cartoon channel,
sound on mute,
colors cranked to high. Big blobs
of gelatinous reds and yellows,
oranges and greens came and went
like the slow, drugged dance of a lava lamp.
Once he dreamed about a rocket ship.
I want to sculpt it, he told me, but I don’t
have silver clay or the right blue


I was supposed to teach him yoga, and we tried
some gentle stretches, but his body was wasting.
So we talked about the sky, his medications,
thoughtless friends who came to see him
when they had colds.

He fired me twice; once because he heard me
tell his mother how to meditate
by following his breath, and once
because he figured out I wanted him to like me.


After he went blind, he’d turn his face to the window;
Is it clear today? Are there clouds in the sky?
And I’d say Yes, and he’d say, Are they the big puffy kind?

And I’d say No, today they’re thin and layered like fish scales,
or I’d say, They’re lilies with dark throats; palaces, dragons
turning into heads of old men
sleeping on gray pillows.
He seemed happy
when we talked about things that weren’t real.


The night before his thirtieth birthday, he dreamed
six hunky male dancers carried him
on a gold stretcher
up Sixth Avenue to Central Park,
To a picnic, he said,
like the one you told me about for the staff.

We considered the scabs on his face, the danger
of sunburn. I’ll need a hat, he said, with a broad brim.
There should be a line of trumpeters in front of us,
like a parade . . .

And drummers, I said.

Everyone will be there; all the nurses, my mother,
my sister, my dealer . . .
I’ll paint my oxygen tank gold
and strap it to my back like a parachute

Yes, and we’ll launch you from Sheep’s Meadow
in a hot-air balloon with a red and purple canopy—

And green, he said, and turquoise . . .


He gave me picture postcards of his collages
He called them panoramas.

Only one survives,

Financial District, NYC:

two ragged bluish towers rise
into matte black space,
a nuclear winter
noontime darkness,
the smattering
of pedestrians pasted in
from other pictures,
rebuilt from different times of day.

He cut everything he shot
into pieces, as if to break apart the world
and recreate it
with tweezers
and toothpicks, intricate
and strangely lit
as his face—
skeletal in twilight.


I remember most the unfinished piece
draped across a table, the inside
of an old-world hotel in Monaco.
He called it his self-portrait.
Gold light, dark wood, a stained glass dome—
At first, I thought it was a church.
Two tiny pictures of his face were pasted in:
one at a table in the lobby;
one by the bar with the old men.
I hope I can finish it, he said.
I need to put my face in one more place.


Near the end he wore a collar around his neck
so when he dozed off
it wouldn’t break.
He was worried
about the afterlife. What do you believe?
I told him I believed the body falls away,
but the soul goes on.
He changed the subject
to veal, his favorite meal
before he went to liquid.
The spring calves, he said.
I’ve seen them.
They have no room to move at all.  

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