Tim Dlugos in front of DC’s bookshelf in Los Angeles, 1980.
Tim Dlugos was one of my closest friends and remains one of my very favorite poets ever. We became friends in the late 70s when I solicited work from him for my magazine Little Caesar. I went on to publish two books by him, Je Suis Ein Americano (1979) and Entre Nous (1981), and he and I co-edited Coming Attractions, anthology of new American poets under the age of 30. His poetry influenced mine vastly, and, thanks to his companionship and kindness and extraordinary social skills, I was introduced to many of my lifelong dearest friends and writer comrades and a serious boyfriend or two. It would take ages to begin to describe what a star and shining light Tim was in late 70s and early 80s, as a poet and as a person. He seemed to be friends with every interesting person in the world, and to move within his circle of friends was a non-stop heady and enlightening experience. If there was ever an ideal subject for an oral biography, it’s Tim, and some enterprising someone should really get on that. Tim kind of crashed out in the mid-80s when depression and alcohol and hedonism became his enemies for a while, and, although he evened himself out and wrote the best poetry of his life, the timing couldn’t have been worse as he’d contracted HIV and finally died of AIDS-related causes about a billion years too soon at the age of 40. Since his poetry books were published by small presses that are long gone, his work has been really hard to come by until now thanks to the poet David Trinidad who has edited a new book of Tim’s Collected Poems and to the press Nightboat Books, who has published it. Tim is an absolutely extraordinary poet, and I hope you will devote time to reading this post about him and the work of his that I’ve included and that you will be inspired to buy the book. — DC
‘Tim Dlugos is still under-read, in part because contemporary poetry is still just catching up to his Pop-Art poems, his eclectic palette of cultural references and tones. I did hear Joan Larkin singing Dlugos’s praises to students at New England College two summers ago, and I think that Trinidad’s loving restoration of so many heretofore unpublished gems will help to bring these poems—both intimate and public, wistful and acerbic—to a wider audience.’ — DA Powell
‘Tim Dlugos’s masterpiece is the poem “G-9,” named after the AIDS ward at Roosevelt Hospital in NYC. I’m not an expert in the literature to come out of the AIDS epidemic, but it’s hard to believe there is anything in that body of work more vivid and powerful than this poem. In November of 1989, Tim sent me a fat envelope of poems—“Here are the fruits of my hospital stay and my first week out.” I was blown away the contents, which included “Powerless” and “G-9.” He was doing his best work in his final year of life. “G-9” was accepted by the Paris Review not long before Tim died, of complications from AIDS on December 3, 1990, at age 40. He never lived to see the issue (#115) come out, but he was delighted to know that it would be in the magazine.’ — Terence Winch
‘The Frank O’Hara of his generation. — Ted Berrigan
Tim Dlugos @ Wikipedia
Audio: Tim Dlugos reading his poetry in 1978 @ Pennsound
About Tim Dlugos and Philip Monaghan’s ‘At Moments Like These He Feels Farthest Away’
Tribute to Tim Dlugos by Terence Winch @ The Best American Poetry
‘Hiddden History (including Essex Hemphill, Tim Dlugos and “Poets and Pornographers”)’
2 poems by Tim Dlugos @ epoetry
5 poems by Tim Dlugos @ Clementine Magazine
Tim Dlugos books @ goodreads
Tim Dlugos Page @ Facebook
Guide to the Tim Dlugos Papers @ Fales Library
Buy ‘A Fast Life’ @ Nightboat Books
‘At Moments Like These He Feels Farthest Away is the culmination of a collaboration between painter Philip Monaghan and poet Tim Dlugos based on Dlugos’ poem “Gilligan’s Island” (read the poem below). The series, originally commissioned in 1983 — but left unfinished when Dlugos died of AIDS in 1990 — was revisited by Monaghan in 2007. The show includes 54 works of oil, watercolor, and digital prints on canvas as well as a graphic depiction of Dlugos’ poem on the gallery walls. In addition to being stylistically captivating, the works are compelling in that they explore the subliminal psychosexual undercurrent embodied in this elemental piece of 1970s pop culture. This is “Gilligan’s Island” like you’ve never seen it before.”’ — flavorpill
‘At Moments Like These He Feels Furthest Away’ by Philip Monaghan
August 18, 1977: Brad Gooch and Tim Dlugos
Gowri Koneswaran reads Tim Dlugos’ “Poem After Dinner”
Jaysen Wright reads Tim Dlugos’ “Sleep Like Spoons”
Philip Clark reads Tim Dlugos’ “D.O.A.”
Tim Dlugos and Joe Brainard in conversation (1977)
from Little Caesar Magazine
Tim Dlugos A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos
‘A Fast Life establishes Tim Dlugos—the witty and innovative poet at the heart of the New York literary scene in the late 1970s and 1980s and seminal poet of the AIDS epidemic—as one of the most distinctive and energetic poets of our time. This definitive volume contains all of the poems Dlugos published in his lifetime, a wealth of previously unpublished poems, and an informative introduction, chronology, and notes assembled by the volume’s editor, poet David Trinidad.
‘Born in 1950, TIM DLUGOS was involved in the Mass Transit poetry scene in Washington, D.C., and later, in New York City, in the downtown literary scene. His books include Je Suis Ein Americano, Entre Nous, Strong Place, and Powerless. Dlugos died of AIDS at the age of forty. DAVID TRINIDAD’s most recent collection of poetry is the The Late Show. He teaches at Columbia College in Chicago.’ — Nightboat Books
Every time I use
my language, I tell
the truth. A cat
in a white collar,
like a priest with calico
fur, walks across the dead
grass of the yard, and out
through the white fence. The sun’s
strong, but the colors of the lawn
were washed out by the winter, not the light.
February. Stained glass window of the house
next door takes the sun’s full brunt.
It must look spectacular
to the neighbor in my head,
a white-haired woman with an air
of dignity and grace, who
through pools of the intensest
colors climbs the flight of stairs.
I’ve never seen it,
but I know it’s there.
Shelley Winters you’re such a pig I love you
Not “even though” you’re ugly and never shut up
—and dress like the wife of a cabbie who won
—the Lottery, but because of it!
I think you’re a miserable actress, and didn’t
—even care when you drowned in The Poseidon
—Adventure, it was a terrible movie and you
—were just wretched all the way through.
I agree with Neal Freeman that, objectively, you
—are ALWAYS unsatisfactory
And incredibly tacky: I know someone who
—saw you stinking drunk and stumbling down a
—corridor in the Traymore, now you always
—remind me of Atlantic City, and that’s dreary.
Every time you’re on Dick Cavett I get embarrassed
—for him just watching you talk.
You never answer the questions. You never remotely
—answer the questions.
Shelley, sometimes I don’t think I can take it you
—depress me so, but you fascinate the hell out of
—me just the same
And I say with a sigh, “It’s okay, it’s just the
—way Shelley is.”
I’m so young, you’re so dumb, it never could work
—still I watch you every chance I get and love
—you, you’re such a mess
for Donald Grace
Underneath your skin, your heart
moves. Your chest
rises at its touch. A small bump
second. We watch for what appears
to be hours.
Our hands log the time: the soft
underneath your eyes. Our bodies
intersect like highways
with limitless access and perfect spans
We pay for this later. I pay
for breakfast. We
can’t stay long. We take off
to the museum
and watch the individual colors
as they surface
in the late works of Matisse.
They move the way
your heart moves, the way we breathe.
You draw your own
breath, then I draw mine. This is
truly great art.
Barry Davison is finishing Remembrance of Things Past.
A hustler’s hair and eyes blow Dennis Cooper away.
Bo Huston comes into his inheritance.
John Craig seems pretty stoned.
Lanny Richman’s working overtime.
Sam Cross and Janet Campbell watch “The Thorn Birds.”
Cheri Fein is getting ready for her wedding.
Steve Hamilton goes to the poetry reading.
Mark Butler is waiting for a phone call from New York.
Michael Szceziak isn’t home.
Steven Abbott’s somewhere in the Moslem world.
Michael Friedman’s torn between two lovers.
Emily McKoane has dreams of empire.
Joe Brainard feels the dope kick in.
Rob Dickerson is getting used to living on his own.
Diane Ward rehearses her performance.
A shopclerk’s hair and eyes blow Donald Britton away.
Morris Golde goes to the ballet.
Darragh Park drinks Perrier.
Doug Milford isn’t home.
Brian Foster’s living in the world of fashion.
Philip Monaghan thinks he’ll go to bed with a friend.
Bobby Thompson stands behind the front desk.
Chris Lemmerhirt feels the dope kick in.
Alex Vachon’s working on his resume.
Randy Russell hits the books.
Mary Spring is getting ready for her wedding.
Christopher Cox goes to the opera.
Charles Shockley seems pretty stoned.
Edmund Sutton isn’t home.
Michael Lally and Dennis Christopher rehearse a play.
The Changing Light at Sandover blows Tim Dlugos away.
Jane DeLynn goes to est.
Teddy Dawson drinks a Lite beer.
John Bernd isn’t home.
Frank Holliday paints.
Michael Bilunas eats out with a man who has a famous last name.
David Craig’s not part of the picture yet.
Henry Spring is dying of emphysema.
Kenward Elmslie’s working on his musical.
Kevin Bacon’s onstage in Slab Boys for the final time.
Edmund White is on a “boy’s night out.”
Brad Gooch makes copies.
David Hinchman feels the dope kick in.
Keith Milow isn’t home.
Diane Benson’s living in the world of fashion.
A sequence of strong drinks blows Ed Brzezinski away.
Tor Seidler goes to the ballet.
Eileen Myles is on the wagon.
Patrick Fox is getting used to living on his own.
May 12, 1983
The Professor and Ginger are standing in the space in front
of the Skipper’s cabin. The Professor is wearing deck shoes,
brushed denim jeans, and a white shirt open at the throat.
Ginger is wearing spike heels, false eyelashes, and a white
satin kimono. The Professor looks at her with veiled lust
in his eyes. He raises an articulate eyebrow and addresses
her as Cio-Cio-San. Ginger blanches and falls on her knife.
* * *
Meanwhile it is raining in northern California. In a tiny
village on the coast, Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren are totally
concerned. They realize that something terrible is happening.
Each has been savagely attacked by a wild songbird within
the last twenty-four hours. Outside their window thousands
of birds have gathered in anticipation of the famous school-
yard scene. Tippi Hedren is wearing a colorful lipstick.
* * *
Ginger stares back at the Professor. His sullen good looks
are the perfect foil for her radiant smile. The Skipper and
Gilligan come into sight. The Skipper has been chasing
Gilligan around the lagoon for a long time now. Gilligan
holds onto his hat in the stupid way he has of doing things
like that. The Professor’s lips part in a sneer of perfect
contempt. Ginger bares her teeth, as if in appreciation.
* * *
Jackie Kennedy bares her teeth. Behind and above her, the
muzzle of a high-powered rifle protrudes from a window. A little
man is aiming at Jackie Kennedy’s husband. The man is wearing
bluejeans and a white T-shirt. There isn’t a bird to be seen.
As he squeezes the trigger, the little man mutters between
clenched teeth, “Certs is a candy mint.” The hands of Jackie
Kennedy’s husband jerk automatically toward his head.
* * *
The Professor is noticing Ginger’s breasts. He thinks of
the wife he left at home, who probably thinks he’s dead.
He thinks of his mother, and all of the women he has ever
known. Mr. and Mrs. Howell are asleep in their hut, secure
in their little lives as character actors. Ginger shifts her
weight to the other foot. The intensity of the moment reminds
the Professor of a Japanese city before the end of the war.
* * *
In his mind he goes down each aisle in his government class,
focusing on each face, each body. He is lying on his bed
with his white shirt off and his trousers open. Dorothy
Kirsten’s voice fills the room. He settles on a boy who sits
two desks behind him. He begins to masturbate, his body moving
in time with the sad music. At moments like these he feels
farthest away. As he shoots, his lips part and he bares his teeth.
* * *
The Professor and Ginger are watching each other across the
narrow space. The Skipper and Gilligan have disappeared down
the beach. The Howells are quietly snoring. The Professor
and Ginger are alone. From the woods comes the sound of
strange birds. From the water comes a thick and eerie
tropical silence. The famous conversation scene is about
to start. Clouds appear in the sky, and it begins to snow.
It Used to Be More Fun
It used to be more fun to be a poet
start the day with coffee and a sense
of bowling over people in a public space
with words that tell how I’m bowled over
this minute by the light
that pours across the city and its various shoes
and uniforms of occupation
troops whose ways of life I’d never share
but for the spaces
we separately passed through
I thought that I was different as I filled
those yellow pads with words
written in the styles of heroes
I wanted to be famous as, but younger,
the New York Ingenue School
of poetry and life but now I know
that saying that I’m different
from the rest because I make a poem
instead of shoes and uniforms
is how I drove my car toward death
too long—it wasn’t sloth
or lust or self-absorption
that put me where I ended up,
I was a poet, the same excuse
and boast my heroes used—the one
who was too drunk to see
the headlights coming, the one
who never left his bed, the connoisseur
of cure and re-addiction, the messed-up
child it used to be more fun before I knew
that what I thought I was and wanted
was death and my embroidery a shroud.
Say it loud, I’m not proud
of handiwork like that. I used to think
that poetry could serve the revolution
and that the revolution would transform
the world because the only way
that I could see things ever
changing was from outside
so I hitched my fortune to a threadbare star.
It was more fun to write against the war
when we thought the gifts our heroes
the downtrodden of the world
bore were truth and justice
instead of one more scam in Vietnam
my poems and self-righteous voice
helped give birth to boat people in Cambodia
to unspeakable crimes and now
my “US Out of Nicaragua” rap gives succor
to another ominous bunch of agrarian
reformers, this one with a top cop
whose first name is “Lenin,” a touch
straight out of a darkly funny novel
by Naipaul or Evelyn Waugh
It used to be more fun when other places
seemed better and more noble than America
even the obsessive money-grubbing swamp
of sanctimony that’s America these days
it used to be more fun when poetry
didn’t cost so much and when I didn’t need
the government to give me money to write poems
I liked what poetry could do
to street life, even and especially
when it came from the streets I liked
the poise and energy and grace
of black poets and gay poets and Dadaists
and unschooled natural artists
who fell into the workshops through the open doors
it was more fun before the mass
of canny grant recipients of many hues
took over it was more fun in my director’s chair
writing poems in an attic
than as a director, hurting friends
regretfully in the service of collective goals
it was more fun before I knew
my poetry could never be a spaceship
to speed me far away, or that I’d always be
outside it, like a parent,
seeing its resemblance to
my old intentions but unable
to make it work
and trusting it less
for the truths it told
than for the lies it didn’t
Talking to my friend Emily, whose drinking
patterns and extravagance of personal
feeling are a lot like mine, I’m pretty
convinced when she explains the things we do
while drinking (a cocktail to celebrate the new
account turns into a party that lasts till 3
a.m. and a terrific hangover) indicate
a problem of a sort I’d not considered.
I’ve been worried about how I metabolize
the sauce for four years, since my second bout
of hepatitis, when I kissed all the girls
at Christmas dinner and turned bright yellow
Christmas night, but never about whether
I could handle it. It’s been more of a given,
the stage set for my life as an artistic queer,
as much of a tradition in these New York circles
as incense for Catholics or German
shepherds for the blind. We re-enact
the rituals, and our faces, like smoky icons
in a certain light, seem to learn nothing
but understand all. It comforts me
yet isn’t all that pleasant, like drinking
Ripple to remember high school. A friend
of mine has been drinking in the same bar for decades,
talking to the same types, but progressively
fewer blonds. Joe LeSueur says he’s glad
to have been a young man in the Fifties with his
Tab Hunter good looks, because that was the image
men desired; now it’s the Puerto Rican
angel with great eyes and a fierce fidelity
that springs out of machismo, rather than a moral
choice. His argument is pretty convincing, too,
except lots of the pretty blonds I’ve known
default by dying young, leaving the field
to the swarthy. Cameron Burke, the dancer
and waiter at Magoo’s, killed on his way home from
the Pines when a car hit his bike on the Sunrise Highway.
Henry Post dead of AIDS, a man I thought would be around
forever, surprising me by his mortality the way
I was surprised when I heard he was not
the grandson of Emily Post at all, just pretending,
like the friend he wrote about in Playgirl, Blair Meehan,
was faking when he crashed every A List party for a year
by pretending to be Kay Meehan’s son, a masquerade
that ended when a hostess told him “Your mother’s here”
and led him by the hand to the dowager—Woman, behold
thy son—underneath a darkening conviction that all,
if not wrong, was not right. By now Henry may have faced
the same embarrassment at some cocktail party in the sky.
Stay as outrageously nasty as you were. And Patrick
Mack, locked into memory as he held court in the Anvil
by the downstairs pinball machine, and writhing
as he danced in Lita Hornick’s parlor when the Stimulators
played her party, dead last week of causes I don’t know,
as if the cause and not the effect were the problem.
My blond friend Chuck Shaw refers to the Bone-
crusher in the Sky, and I’m starting to
imagine a road to his castle lit by radiant
heads of blonds on poles as streetlamps for the gods,
flickering on at twilight as I used to do
in the years when I crashed more parties and acted
more outrageously and met more beauties and made
more enemies than ever before or ever again, I pray.
It’s spring and there’s another crop of kids
with haircuts from my childhood and inflated self-esteem
from my arrival in New York, who plug into the history
of prettiness, convincing to themselves and the devout.
We who are about to catch the eye of someone
new salute as the cotillion passes, led by blonds
and followed by the rest of us, a formal march
to the dark edge of the ballroom where we step out
onto the terrace and the buds of the forsythia
that hides the trash sprout magically
at our approach. I toast it
as memorial to dreams as fragile and persistent
as a blond in love. My clothes smell like the smoky
bar, but the sweetness of the April air’s
delicious when I step outside and fill
my lungs, leaning my head back
in a first-class seat on the shuttle
between the rowdy celebration of the great deeds
to come and an enormous Irish wake in which
the corpses change but the party goes on forever.
drop into the dark river.
Heedless of political significance,
they ride out to the sea like stars.
I’m the space explorer.
I travel to a planet
where there are no plants or animals.
Everyone lives in harmony.
I don’t want to go home.
I’m the pioneer man and the pioneer woman,
both at the same time.
I build my house with my own hands,
and it’s beautiful,
with simple, perfect lines.
I’m the farmer waiting for the vegetables
to grow, so I can eat.
I’m the hunter aiming at the bear.
I don’t want to shoot it, but my family needs meat.
The bear gives me a long dumb animal look.
We’ll use his skin for blankets,
his fat to light our lamps.
Our cabin will stink all night.
I’m the cabin boy who graduates to captain.
Shipboard sex is rough, but it suits my taste.
I’m the man on the steps of the house
where the President’s widow lives.
All night I wait for the stranger
to get out of his car
so I can flash my look of recognition.
I’m the cowpoke who sleeps with his horses.
I’m the man who loves dogs.
I’m the cranky President sneaking away
to swim in the Potomac.
I’m the black man.
I close my eyes
and it gets dark inside.
I feel the sun on my face.
I see the light through my eyelids.
It’s bright, intelligent
free of all cares.
I’m the heir of a great American family.
My success is guaranteed.
Unexpected tragedy is all that can stop me.
I’m the popular senator teaching his son to shave.
I’m at a double wake
in Springfield, for a childhood
friend and his father
who died years ago. I join
my aunt in the queue of mourners
and walk into a brown study,
a sepia room with books
and magazines. The father’s
in a coffin; he looks exhumed,
the worse for wear. But where
my friend’s remains should be
there’s just the empty base
of an urn. Where are his ashes?
His mother hands me
a paper cup with pills:
and AZT. “Henry
wanted you to have these,”
she sneers. “Take all
you want, for all the good
they’ll do.” “Dlugos.
Meester Dlugos.” A lamp
snaps on. Raquel,
not Welch, the chubby
nurse, is standing by my bed.
It’s 6 a.m., time to flush
the heplock and hook up
the I.V. line. False dawn
is changing into day, infusing
the sky above the Hudson
with a flush of light.
My roommate stirs
beyond the pinstriped curtain.
My first time here on G-9,
the AIDS ward, the cheery
D & D Building intentionality
of the decor made me feel
like jumping out a window.
I’d been lying on a gurney
in an E.R. corridor
for nineteen hours, next to
a psychotic druggie
with a voice like Abbie
Hoffman’s. He was tied
up, or down, with strips
of cloth (he’d tried to slug
a nurse) and sent up
a grating adenoidal whine
all night. “Nurse . . . nurse . . .
untie me, please . . . these
rags have strange powers.”
By the time they found
a bed for me, I was in
no mood to appreciate the clever
curtains in my room,
the same fabric exactly
as the drapes and sheets
of a P-town guest house
in which I once—partied? stayed?
All I can remember is
the pattern. Nor did it
help to have the biggest queen
on the nursing staff
clap his hands delightedly
and welcome me to AIDS-land.
I wanted to drop
dead immediately. That
was the low point. Today
these people are my friends,
in the process of restoring
me to life a second time.
I can walk and talk
and breathe simultaneously
now. I draw a breath
and sing “Happy Birthday”
to my roommate Joe.
He’s 51 today. I didn’t think
he’d make it. Three weeks
ago they told him that he had
aplastic anemia, and nothing
could be done. Joe had been
a rotten patient, moaning
operatically, throwing chairs
at nurses. When he got
the bad news, there was
a big change. He called
the relatives with whom
he had been disaffected,
was anointed and communicated
for the first time since the age
of eight when he was raped
by a priest, and made a will.
As death drew nearer, Joe
grew nicer, almost serene.
Then the anemia
began to disappear, not
because of medicines, but
on its own. Ready to die,
it looks like Joe has more
of life to go. He’ll go
home soon. “When will you
get out of here?” he asks me.
I don’t know; when the X-ray
shows no more pneumonia.
I’ve been here three weeks
this time. What have I
accomplished? Read some
Balzac, spent “quality
time” with friends, come back
from death’s door, and
prayed, prayed a lot.
Barry Bragg, a former
lover of a former
lover and a new
Episcopalian, has AIDS too,
and gave me a leatherbound
and gold-trimmed copy of the Office,
the one with all the antiphons.
My list of daily intercessions
is as long as a Russian
novel. I pray about AIDS
last. Last week I made a list
of all my friends who’ve died
or who are living and infected.
Every day since, I’ve remembered
someone I forgot to list.
This morning it was Chasen
Gaver, the performance poet
from DC. I don’t know
if he’s still around. I liked
him and could never stand
his poetry, which made it
difficult to be a friend,
although I wanted to defend
him one excruciating night
at a Folio reading, where
Chasen snapped his fingers
and danced around spouting
frothy nonsense about Andy
Warhol to the rolling eyes
of self-important “language-
centered” poets, whose dismissive
attitude and ugly manners
were worse by far than anything
that Chasen ever wrote.
Charles was his real name;
a classmate at Antioch
dubbed him “Chasen,” after
the restaurant, I guess.
Once I start remembering,
so much comes back.
There are forty-nine names
on my list of the dead,
thirty-two names of the sick.
Cookie Mueller changed
lists Saturday. They all
will, I guess, the living,
I mean, unless I go
before them, in which case
I may be on somebody’s
list myself. It’s hard
to imagine so many people
I love dying, but no harder
than to comprehend so many
already gone. My beloved
Bobby, maniac and boyfriend.
Barry reminded me that he
had sex with Bobby
on the coat pile at this Christmas
party, two years in a row.
That’s the way our life
together used to be, a lot
of great adventures. Who’ll
remember Bobby’s stories
about driving in his debutante
date’s father’s white Mercedes
from hole to hole of the golf course
at the poshest country club
in Birmingham at 3 a.m.,
or taking off his clothes
in the redneck bar on a dare,
or working on Stay Hungry
as the dresser of a then-
unknown named Schwarzenegger.
Who will be around to anthologize
his purple cracker similes:
“Sweatin’ like a nigger
on Election Day,” “Hotter
than a half-fucked fox
in a forest fire.” The ones
that I remember have to do
with heat, Bobby shirtless,
sweating on the dance floor
of the tiny bar in what is now
a shelter for the indigent
with AIDS on the dockstrip,
stripping shirts off Chuck Shaw,
Barry Bragg and me, rolling
up the tom rags, using them
as pom-poms, then bolting
off down West Street, gracefully
(despite the overwhelming
weight of his inebriation)
vaulting over trash cans
as he sang, “I like to be
in America” in a Puerto Rican
accent. When I pass,
who’ll remember, who will care
about these joys and wonders?
I’m haunted by that more
than by the faces
of the dead and dying.
A speaker crackles near
my bed and nurses
streak down the corridor.
The black guy on the respirator
next door bought the farm,
Maria tells me later, but
only when I ask. She has tears
in her eyes. She’d known him
since his first day on G-9
a long time ago. Will I also
become a fond, fondly regarded
regular, back for stays
the way retired retiring
widowers return to the hotel
in Nova Scotia or Provence
where they vacationed with
their wives? I expect so, although
that’s down the road; today’s
enough to fill my plate. A bell
rings, like the gong that marks
the start of a fight. It’s 10
and Derek’s here to make
the bed, Derek who at 16
saw Bob Marley’s funeral
in the football stadium
in Kingston, hot tears
pouring down his face.
He sings as he folds
linens, “You can fool
some of the people some
of the time,” dancing
a little softshoe as he works.
There’s a reason he came in
just now; Divorce Court
drones on Joe’s TV, and
Derek is hooked. I can’t
believe the script is plausible
to him, Jamaican hipster
that he is, but he stands
transfixed by the parade
of faithless wives and screwed-up
husbands. The judge is testy;
so am I, unwilling
auditor of drivel. Phone
my friends to block it out:
David, Jane and Eileen. I missed
the bash for David’s magazine
on Monday and Eileen’s reading
last night. Jane says that
Marie-Christine flew off
to Marseilles where her mother
has cancer of the brain,
reminding me that AIDS
is just a tiny fragment
of life’s pain. Eileen has
been thinking about Bobby, too,
the dinner that we threw
when he returned to New York
after getting sick. Pencil-thin,
disfigured by KS, he held forth
with as much kinetic charm
as ever. What we have
to cherish is not only
what we can recall of how
things were before the plague,
but how we each responded
once it started. People
have been great to me.
An avalanche of love
has come my way
since I got sick, and not
just moral support.
Jaime’s on the board
of PEN’s new fund
for AIDS; he’s helping out.
Don Windham slipped a check
inside a note, and Brad
Gooch got me something
from the Howard Brookner Fund.
Who’d have thought when we
dressed up in ladies’
clothes for a night for a hoot
in Brad (“June Buntt”) and
Howard (“Lili La Lean”)’s suite
at the Chelsea that things
would have turned out this way:
Howard is dead at 35, Chris Cox
(“Kay Sera Sera”)’s friend Bill
gone too, “Bernadette of Lourdes”
(guess who) with AIDS,
God knows how many positive.
Those 14th Street wigs and enormous
stingers and Martinis don’t
provoke nostalgia for a time
when love and death were less
inextricably linked, but
for the stories we would tell
the morning after, best
when they involved our friends,
second-best, our heroes.
J.J. Mitchell was master
of the genre. When he learned
he had AIDS, I told him
he should write them down.
His mind went first. I’ll tell you
one of his best. J.J. was
Jerome Robbins’ houseguest
At Bridgehampton. Every morning
they would have a contest
to see who could finish
the Times crossword first.
Robbins always won, until
a day when he was clearly
baffled. Grumbling, scratching
over letters, he finally
threw his pen down. “J.J.,
tell me what I’m doing wrong.”
One clue was “Great 20th-c.
choreographer.” The solution
was “Massine,” but Robbins
had placed his own name
in the space. Every word
around it had been changed
to try to make the puzzle
work, except that answer.
At this point there’d be
a horsey laugh from J.J.
—“Isn’t that great?”
he’d say through clenched
teeth (“Locust Valley lockjaw”).
It was, and there were lots
more where that one came from,
only you can’t get there anymore.
He’s dropped into the maw
waiting for the G-9
denizens and for all flesh,
as silent as the hearts
that beat upon the beds
up here: the heart of the drop-
dead beautiful East Village
kid who came in yesterday,
Charles Frost’s heart nine inches
from the spleen they’re taking
out tomorrow, the heart of
the demented girl whose screams
roll down the hallways
late at night, hearts that long
for lovers, for reprieve,
for old lives, for another chance.
My heart, so calm most days,
sinks like a brick
to think of all that heartache.
I’ve been staying sane with
program tools, turning everything
over to God “as I understand
him.” I don’t understand him.
Thank God I read so much
Calvin last spring; the absolute
necessity of blind obedience
to a sometimes comforting,
sometimes repellent, always
of light and life stayed
with me. God can seem
so foreign, a parent
from another country,
like my Dad and his own
father speaking Polish
in the kitchen. I wouldn’t
trust a father or a God
too much like me, though.
That is why I pack up all
my cares and woes, and load them
on the conveyor belt, the speed
of which I can’t control, like
Chaplin on the assembly line
in Modern Times or Lucy on TV.
I don’t need to run
machines today. I’m standing
on a moving sidewalk
headed for the dark
or light, whatever’s there.
Duncan Hannah visits, and
we talk of out-of-body
experiences. His was
amazing. Bingeing on vodka
in his dorm at Bard, he woke
to see a naked boy
in fetal posture on the floor.
Was it a corpse, a classmate,
a pickup from the blackout
of the previous night? Duncan
didn’t know. He struggled
out of bed, walked over
to the youth, and touched
his shoulder. The boy turned;
it was Duncan himself.
My own experience was
milder, don’t make me flee
screaming from the room
as Duncan did. It happened
on a Tibetan meditation
weekend at the Cowley Fathers’
house in Cambridge.
Michael Koonsman led it,
healer whose enormous paws
directed energy. He touched
my spine to straighten up
my posture, and I gasped
at the rush. We were chanting
to Tara, goddess of compassion
and peace, in the basement chapel
late at night. I felt myself
drawn upward, not levitating
physically, but still somehow
above my body. A sense
of bliss surrounded me.
It lasted ten or fifteen
minutes. When I came down,
my forehead hurt. The spot
where the “third eye” appears
in Buddhist art felt
as though someone had pushed
a pencil through it.
The soreness lasted for a week.
Michael wasn’t surprised.
He did a lot of work
with people with AIDS
in the epidemic’s early days
but when he started losing
weight and having trouble
with a cough, he was filled
with denial. By the time
he checked into St. Luke’s,
he was in dreadful shape.
The respirator down his throat
squelched the contagious
enthusiasm of his voice,
but he could still spell out
what he wanted to say
on a plastic Ouija board
beside his bed. When
the doctor who came in
to tell him the results
of his bronchoscopy said,
“Father, I’m afraid I have
bad news,” Michael grabbed
the board and spelled,
“The truth is always
Good News.” After he died,
I had a dream in which
I was a student in a class
that he was posthumously
teaching. With mock annoyance
he exclaimed, “Oh, Tim!
I can’t believe you really think
that AIDS is a disease!”
There’s evidence in that
direction, I’ll tell him
if the dream recurs: the shiny
of the big lesion on my face;
the smaller ones I daub
with makeup; the loss
of forty pounds in a year;
the fatigue that comes on
at the least convenient times.
The symptoms float like algae
on the surface of the grace
that buoys me up today.
Arthur comes in with
the Sacrament, and we have
to leave the room (Joe’s
Italian family has arrived
for birthday cheer) to find
some quiet. Walk out
to the breezeway, where
it might as well be
August for the stifling
heat. On Amsterdam,
pedestrians and drivers are
oblivious to our small aerie,
as we peer through the grille
like cloistered nuns. Since
leaving G-9 the first time,
I always slow my car down
on this block, and stare up
at this window, to the unit
where my life was saved.
It’s strange how quickly
hospitals feel foreign
when you leave, and how normal
their conventions seem as soon
as you check in. From below,
it’s like checking out the windows
of the West Street Jail; hard
to imagine what goes on there,
even if you know firsthand.
The sun is going down as I
receive communion. I wish
the rite’s familiar magic
didn’t dull my gratitude
for this enormous gift.
I wish I had a closer personal
relationship with Christ,
which I know sounds corny
and alarming. Janet Campbell
gave me a remarkable ikon
the last time I was here;
Christ is in a chair, a throne,
and St. John the Divine,
an androgyne who looks a bit
like Janet, rests his head
upon the Savior’s shoulder.
James Madden, priest of Cowley,
dead of cancer earlier
this year at 39, gave her
the image, telling her not to
be afraid to imitate St. John.
There may come a time when
I’m unable to respond with words,
or works, or gratitude to AIDS;
a time when my attitude
caves in, when I’m as weak
as the men who lie across
the dayroom couches hour
after hour, watching sitcoms,
drawing blanks. Maybe
my head will be shaved
and scarred from surgery;
maybe I’ll be pencil-
thin and paler than
a ghost, pale as the vesper
light outside my window now.
It would be good to know
that I could close my eyes
and lean my head back
on his shoulder then,
as natural and trusting
as I’d be with a cherished
love. At this moment,
Chris walks in, Christopher
Earl Wiss of Kansas City
and New York, my lover,
my last lover, my first
healthy and enduring relationship
in sobriety, the man
with whom I choose
to share what I have
left of life and time.
This is the hardest
and happiest moment
of the day. G-9
is no place to affirm
a relationship. Two hours
in a chair beside my bed
after eight hours of work
night after night for weeks
… it’s been a long haul,
and Chris gets tired.
Last week he exploded,
“I hate this, I hate your
being sick and having AIDS
and lying in a hospital
where I can only see you
with a visitor’s pass. I hate
that this is going to
get worse.” I hate it,
too. We kiss, embrace,
and Chris climbs into bed
beside me, to air-mattress
squeaks. Hold on. We hold on
to each other, to a hope
of how we’ll be when I get out.
Let him hold on, please
don’t let him lose his
willingness to stick with me,
to make love and to make
love work, to extend
the happiness we’ve shared.
Please don’t let AIDS
make me a monster
or a burden is my prayer.
Too soon, Chris has to leave.
I walk him to the elevator
bank, then totter back
so Raquel can open my I.V.
again. It’s not even
mid-evening, but I’m nodding
off. My life’s so full, even
(especially?) when I’m here
on G-9. When it’s time
to move on to the next step,
that will be a great adventure,
too. Helena Hughes, Tibetan
Buddhist, tells me that
there are three stages in death.
The first is white, like passing
through a thick but porous wall.
The second stage is red;
the third is black; and then
you’re finished, ready
for the next event. I’m glad
she has a road map, but I don’t
feel the need for one myself.
I’ve trust enough in all
that’s happened in my life,
the unexpected love
and gentleness that rushes in
to fill the arid spaces
in my heart, the way the city
glow fills up the sky
above the river, making it
seem less than night. When
Joe O’Hare flew in last week,
he asked what were the best
times of my New York years;
I said “Today,” and meant it.
I hope that death will lift me
by the hair like an angel
in a Hebrew myth, snatch me with
the strength of sleep’s embrace,
and gently set me down
where I’m supposed to be,
in just the right place.
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Glad you think so. Everyone, Mr. E’s FaBlog has a new entry at its top called ‘Bringing Up Babies’ that is no doubt worth checking out. I haven’t seen you mention your home sale on Facebook? Seems like you’d have more luck there than here where I’m not sure how many Angelenos read the comments? ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff. Happy to have made the introduction. Oh, okay, well, whenever you want, send the I-CB book post materials, and I’ll put them together and target whatever date is appropriate. Yeah, it’s good to be novel-izing again. Still not sure it’ll work. Definitely looking forward to the calibrating stage you’re in with your story, assuming I get that far. I hope the art installation show went really well. I think I saw some pix of the work on FB, and it looked great! ** _Black_Acrylic, Thanks, glad it caught you. Great news about The Call #3 being underway! ** John Fram, Hi, John. I’m happy the post hooked up with you. Yes, I saw that you sent me the pdf, thanks, I haven’t gotten to it yet for the reasons you guessed, but I sure look forward to reading it. I just restarted my novel, so it’s very early on, doing big, sweeping gesture type stuff and mulling things. But it feels good, thanks. ** Steve Erickson, Ah, my mistake. I thought it was one of his own films. Well, then, who knows, but I sure like the topic. If I had AC I’d be in the same boat you’re in, but because I don’t, it might even be a little lower than usual unless powering one measly little fan made a difference. ** Right. Due to a recent prompting by d.l. liquoredgoat, I am using the weekend to draw your attention to the collected poems of the late and very great poet Tim Dlugos. You are strongly urged to dig into his work. See you on Monday.