Greenwich Village 1989
This, a long time ago when
the pox-scarred dead staggered
like zombies, their eyes
blackened with the purple
of Kaposi’s sarcoma
and their brows clotted with
beads of night fever,
through the bathhouse corridors
of my dreams, was my youth. I woke up,
crying and wondering why
my dreams had to get infected,
its veins pumping toxins
deep into the pitted hysteria
of my brain. Didn’t matter
if I’d tested clean again. I was
still afraid to love another man,
a carrier of unknown origins.
I lived and walked the same streets
of Greenwich Village
where ACT UP marched and chanted
against the demons of night.
Mornings I shuddered in their wake.
There were no putrid body parts
strewn about like dog turds.
I still looked out for used syringes
dotted with rust and bitterness.
Then came a man whose name
I’ll never know or may’ve simply
forgotten: tall and gaunt
in an oversized sweater
as if he was constantly shivering.
With a toothy grin
he approached me with desire
flickering in his dark eyes,
only that I suddenly realized where
I’d seen him before, a falsetto singer
as part of an ensemble choir
at an AIDS fundraiser some Sundays
before. We were a few blocks away
from my fifth floor walkup.
He invited me into the church
where we’d first spotted
each other. He had a key.
We’d have complete privacy.
I shook my head no.
He looked stabbed in the heart.
How could I explain my fear
of getting sick from making love
to his toxin-leaden body,
his spidery fingers probing
deep into me as if I was
an untapped vein ready for puncture
with the needle of his tongue?
I wake up twenty-five years later
only to find the cobblestoned streets
swept clean. I’ve become
a peppered stranger even to myself.
I don’t recognize my old neighborhood
anymore. Places I’d loved, gone.
The Oscar Wilde Bookshop, gone.
Even St. Vincent’s Hospital is gone.
Ghosts, the barest outlines
of so many friends who’d died
not knowing what else could be done,
flit and whisper all around me.
Their names, their faces
have turned hazy in the sun.
How strange it feels to be warm now!
Had I hallucinated those years?
Everything is a gauzy white,
antiseptic. These days men advertise
themselves online with a (+)
after their names and faces. I need
to quarantine those fears
and embrace these beautiful ghosts.
This is what survivors do.
Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of fifteen books, including How to Kill Poetry (Sibling Rivalry Press), Among the Leaves: Queer Male Poets on the Midwestern Experience (Squares & Rebels), and Mute (A Midsummer Night’s Press). His novel Men with Their Hands (Queer Mojo) won first place in the Project: QueerLit Contest 2006. He is the editor of Jonathan. A playwright and filmmaker, he lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Web site: raymondluczak.com.