An Obituary for My Boyfriend Who Did Not Die from AIDS
In college we raised money for dying faggots
at the “Hope House” to ease the guilt of living.
You went door to door for nickels gathered from frat boys
in towels and togas, afraid AIDS
was only a miscalculated shower away.
And I wrapped the coins in paper tubes,
placed them in our donation envelope marked
with a sincere note about “the fight.”
The day we visited I was glad “the sick” weren’t home.
It felt right that they were “out to the doctor,”
that a polite volunteer with fake nails, a Kentucky accent,
and plastered hair gave us a tour,
pointing out the jagged construction paper cut-outs of family
members they would like to say goodbye to.
Words scribbled in talk bubbles: “I love you,” “I’m sorry,”
and a few “go to hell”s”
It felt right that the kitchen was bare of knives,
contained only paper plates, card tables collapsed
against yellowed walls, and 12 Step pamphlets scattered
the counter next to the stained HIV fact coasters:
1 in 250 have HIV, 1 in 500 know it.
Upstairs, bedroom doors cracked open to reveal
clotted bed sheets next to meds and magazines full of healthy,
toned gay boys denouncing the myths.
In the bathroom, a motivational calendar hung
crookedly, mountain climbers and the word
“Perseverance” claimed the month of May.
But it was beside the closet with the clothes
of the dead that I grabbed your hand imagining you
like them, melting into floorboards like some Queen
from the Village, me cleaning mucus off rugs, cursing
that you get to die first—smearing make-up
on your lesions so we can go out and pretend no one stares
or cleaning your soiled ass after calling you in sick
to work again, and twisting tales to your mother
who likes to pretend I’m a woman on the telephone,
a nurse, a pay-by-the-hour maid, that we both know
you can’t afford. Or making love with all the lights on,
hoping we do it just right, praying to a God we don’t believe in
that the condom will hold, while yearning
for the touch of skin on skin.
Stephen S. Mills is the author of A History of the Unmarried (Sibling Rivalry, 2014) and He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2012), a finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry from the Publishing Triangle and winner of the 2012 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. His poems have appeared in The Antioch Review, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, PANK, The New York Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, Knockout, Assaracus, The Rumpus, and others. Stephen won the 2008 Gival Press Oscar Wilde Poetry Award for his poem entitled “Iranian Boys Hanged for Sodomy, July 2005,” which appeared in the anthology Poetic Voices Without Borders 2 (Gival Press, 2009), edited by Robert L Giron. He lives in New York City.
For more information, visit www.stephensmills.com.
This poem originally appear in The Q Review in 2010.