Diagnosis Afternoon 1991

My talented older brother
was artistically intrepid
and expressive. As a painter,
he had begun to achieve
some recognition.
He was an oddly secure
and insecure bon vivant.
His lungs had finally cleared—
a rough bout—and he
was feeling his oats.

By happenstance, his partner and I
were in the room with him the day
the doctor—not intending to be ruthless—
answered point-blank his question
about the arc of HTLV-3. He pressed her
for clear, concise terms for his condition.
(We didn’t yet have an exact notion
of HIV and its incremental steps.)
WELL, YOU HAVE AIDS.

The doctor, noting the unexpected
kilter of silence in the room, looked
to me. I asked if the three of us
might be left alone for a few minutes
of privacy. As she left, I, too
withdrew, slipped out behind her
into the hallway. Ahead, lay
decades of unnecessary spasms
and the inflicted lethal civic violence
of another viral pandemic.

Some of us have raggedly
suffered rugged losses.

—Scott Hightower


Scott Hightower is the author of four books of poetry in the U.S. and two bilingual collections published in Madrid. He teaches at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.