Living in the Past
San Francisco 1982-1992
The views were what everyone had:
the hills, parades of paper dragons,
the prison surrounded by sugar water.
Tourists laughed in the crumbling showers.
Climate? Mild. No fear, no regret. Life
stared like a lizard, blinking back
the salt of our climaxes.
Outside, the epidemic spread.
We sipped champagne
from small black bottles, followed manicured paths
between trees that had lost their bark
and smelled like medicine. I wish
I’d kissed you then. You seemed distracted
as we crossed the shell
of the band that only played anthems.
It wasn’t hot but you dripped
hard bright beads of sweat.
The newly infected slumped on benches,
a garden of vanishing plants.
You seemed to be staring at their shoes.
I’m seeing stars, you said.
Joy Ladin is the author of seven books of poetry, including just-published Impersonation (Sheep Meadow, 2015), Lambda Literary Award finalist Transmigration (Sheep Meadow, 2009), and Forward Fives award winner Coming to Life (Sheep Meadow, 2011). Her memoir, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders (University of Wisconsin, 2013), was a 2012 National Jewish Book Award finalist. Joy’s work has appeared in many periodicals, including Lambda Literary Review, American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Southern Review, Southwest Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review, and has been recognized with a Fulbright Scholarship. She holds the David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English at Stern College of Yeshiva University, and has taught in the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, as well as at Princeton University, Reed College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
This poem appeared in New Haven Review (Issue 11, Winter 2012).