“I am become Death. Shatterer of Worlds.”

I envied his flaming pride and his carelessness.
I envied the way he openly painted his nails Glittery Gold
And bleached his hair with Clairol Number 9
While he watched me get ready for yet another date with some boy—
Because it was expected of me.

But I was angry with him the day he took
My Bagavad-Ghita.
He wanted it, so he took it, and he carried it in his back pocket.
I envied the time he spent studying it—
In the woods, in the bed, in his wanderings,
While I worked.

And I was angry with him the night before my third wedding
When he sat near a bonfire getting drunk with the groom-to-be;
I came home from work tired, drained, anxious,
And I screamed at him because I envied his freedom.

But he came with me anyway that next day.
He scattered red roses on the sand
And sliced the cake topped with seashells,
And he quietly watched me say the words—
The promises he thought I could not keep.
And I envied his ease, his ability to live

Two weeks later, I was angry with him again
When he died face down on a stranger’s bed
Breathing in his own vomit—
A confetti-pharmacopeia liberated from his gut.
He left me before I could say that I loved him.
And I envied his escape.

—Jeni Booker Senter

A note from the author: Much of my body of writing is driven by the intense emotions and anxiety aroused by having a cousin diagnosed in the 1980s with ARC, which later progressed to an AIDS diagnosis. She is still fighting to survive. Our family is very conservative, and it was incredibly difficult for another of my cousins, Zack, to navigate his homosexual identity——a situation which was further complicated by family members who used our mutual HIV-positive relative’s diagnosis to inspire fear in Zack. He also suffered, as many of us do, with mental health issues as well, and the lack of acceptance by his father along with his internal struggles with mental illness and his sexual identity compounded his grief, and I lost him to a drug overdose at only twenty-seven years old. This poem is very much informed by this tragic loss of Zack as a result of our family member using our loved one’s HIV status as a weapon to inspire fear in an intelligent and vulnerable young man who struggled with coming out.

Jeni Booker Senter is a writer, editor, teacher, counselor, and mental health advocate. Her writing has earned awards in the C.M. Duque Wilson Essay Contest and the Christian LaRoche Memorial Poetry Contest, and she has contributed to the Blackwater Review, Journal of South Texas English Studies, Socialist Women Magazine: International Women’s Day Edition, A&U, Troubadour, Ginosko, Mused, Pink Panther Magazine, Poetica Review, and other print and online literary journals and magazines. Jeni has a cousin living with HIV, and this has an impact on her writing