Poem 26 ± World AIDS Day 2017

Annie Bien
Dance Scene 1989—NYC

Take the F train to Manhattan to 23rd Street,
walk to Nineteenth Street between Fifth Avenue

and Avenue of the Americas—the map of North
South and Central Americas in the faces

of the dancers squeezing into the elevator, bubbles
of laughter, to the eleventh floor: Alina from Cuba,

Beatriz from Puerto Rico, Julio from Argentina,
Robert from Texas, Kevin from Massachussetts,

the motley modern dance ladies with unshaved
armpits, Mother Gaia thighs next to the sylphs

in pink silk ribboned toe-shoes grey plastic pants
to take off more sweat on already evaporated frames.

Ernie tells me—The word is don’t pick up the lettuce girl
too quickly or she’ll fart, and then you have to carry

her all across the stage with your head hid under her
skirt. He winks. Then Ernie, Jack, Harry, Greg, don’t come

to class anymore, I visit them in hospitals look at
their wan smiles, faces pale then dotted with lesions.

At One-Hundred and Fifty-Ninth Street in the Harkness
Pavilion, suitable for ballet dancers, I sit with John

wearing a New York City Ballet cap. He takes off
the cap and shows me the X and O circles on his head

marked for radiation. He holds my hand and weeps
—no tears—they’ve all dried now, Annie.

I remember him in class, long legs start at my waist,
in black tights and white t-shirt, Giacometti-slim

but elastic like a rubber band. He always says hello
calls my name like I’m his best friend in the world.

My mother—he says—won’t visit me, she doesn’t believe
in my illness. Sit with me, please.

We sit together. He dies alone.
I still see him, making semaphores with his legs, mid-leap.


logoAnnie Bien is the author of Plateau Migration (Alabaster Leaves Publishing, 2012) and Under Shadows of Stars (Kelsay Books, 2017). Her poems and prose have appeared in a number of journals. Her translation of Tibetan Buddhist texts into English is supported by 84000, a division of the Khyentse Foundation.

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