Poem 172 ± November 23, 2015

Maggie Dubris
(from Broke-Down Palace)

For 25 years, I was a 911 paramedic based at St. Clare’s Hospital, the site of the first dedicated AIDS ward in New York City.


My realm is a jumble of mazes and labyrinths
illusions, riddles, mysteries. It’s fun
to solve a mystery, when you
live amongst the gods. Immortal, dealing out
mortality, night after night. A summer evening in
New York City. A basement apartment. A young man
barely out of his teens. Sitting on a wet bed
beside his dad. His breath smells funny.
Like bread. His face is finely sculpted, as if all the fat
has been burned away in a terrible fire.
It’s a look I will later come to associate
with gay men. He’s pale, with purple blotches
like pomegranate seeds, on his face and arms.
So weak he can’t walk. He doesn’t know what’s wrong
with him. No one knows what’s wrong with him.

But I do. Buried in one of my medical magazines
was an article on Kaposi’s Sarcoma. A previously rare
and benign cancer of elderly Italians. Now showing up
in an apparently mutant form in young gay men.
On the west coast, doctors are calling it GRID.
Gay Related Immune Deficiency. Very rare.
452 cases in the whole United States. 453 now.
I wish I remember being afraid, or even
feeling sad for this man, to be so sick so young.

But I was besotted by my own powers. Proud
to have made this impressive diagnosis. Not yet able to see
that Mount Olympus was scaled long ago
Our palaces sacked, our gorges flooded
with germs and sorrow. And I am not Demeter but
Persephone, damned by the mortal pain
I so carelessly consume.

Maggie DubrisMaggie Dubris is the author of In the Dust Zone (Centre-Ville Books, 2010), Skels (Soft Skull Press, 2004), and Weep Not, My Wanton (Black Sparrow Press, 2002). Her poem, “WillieWorld,” first published as a chapbook by Richard Hell’s Cuz Editions, is now available as an ebook. She is currently working on, Broke-Down Palace, a memoir in verse about her years as a 911 paramedic at St. Clare’s Hosptial. For ten years, Maggie was guitarist and a principal songwriter for the all-female band Homer Erotic (Homerica the Beautiful, Depth of Field records, 1999). She received a NYFA fellowship for her soundscape work in The Vanishing Birds Project and The Vanishing Oceans Project, collaborative installations created with the artist Linda Byrne. Maggie worked for twenty years as a full-time 911 paramedic in the Times Square district in New York City, and responded to the Trade Center on September 11th. She is currently employed as a professional hypnotist and a paramedic on film and TV sets. Holding a black belt in karate, Maggie works part-time for Kids Kicking Cancer as a martial arts health care worker.

Photo by Timothy Lomas

This poem is not previously published.