Two Decades and then Some
No one writes about the dead anymore.
The fear of infection and loss isn’t so dramatic now.
Pills are today’s answer to everything.
Each month brings us new findings,
often conflicting with each other. No matter.
Progress, progress is being steadily made!
The last person I know who died of it went five years ago.
Nowadays men advertise condom-free encounters.
Death’s now a punch line to a joke that no one gets.
Two decades ago I stared, trying not to vomit
when far too many patients lined up,
the purple splotches tattooing their stick arms
reaching out for God, Allah, Zeus—anything!
Their craggy faces cried surrender
to the rivulets of toxins slithering like snakes
inside their skins swelling pus by the hour.
But I was no Florence Nightingale.
I was too scared of quarantine with them.
Back then, no one could figure out anything.
These dying men became a circus of experiments,
one toxic drug trial after another. Nurses wouldn’t
enter their rooms with their trays of food. I saw
friends wither away like bitter rosebushes in winter.
I fought nights not to masturbate. Mornings
I found my body outlined in sweaty salts
on my black futon sheets, scenes of a crime.
Long acquitted, I find the dead still sleeping in my bed.
Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of seventeen books, including five poetry collections such as Mute (A Midsummer Night’s Press) and How to Kill Poetry (Sibling Rivalry Press). A resident of Minneapolis, Minnesota, he is the editor of the literary fiction journal Jonathan and can be found on-line at raymondluczak.com.
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