Today is a day is a day is a re(memory) of AIDS

Two Mays ago, I dressed my body in heavy backpack full of fabrics to wear and an empty notebook to fill and I flapped my wings toward Amsterdam. I was looking to write poems with strangers; I was looking to get over a lost love; I was looking to drench myself in a place I spent years dreaming about and needed to explore alone.

On my last day there, I volunteered at Dominiscuskirk, a nearby church on Spuistraat. Stained glass replaced wallpaper or paint and angels flew all around in corners and around pillars. I was there to help set up the giant quilt panels honoring those who died of AIDS. I took in all the photographs sewed onto various colors and textured patterns. When all the quilts had been hung, I sat watching candles grow illuminated.

A thin man, curved into a wheelchair, moved beside me. He introduced himself as Steven. When I told him that I was visiting from New York, he announced he had been there twice before 2001. “I listened to jazz music then,” he said. “And I went to Central Park.” I told him that I came to Amsterdam to write poems. Will you write a poem with me? I asked him.

Steven smiled. I wanted to cry out medicinal band-aids and heal him. We write:

poetry is religion
there are lots of angels here
a lean into bowl creates a hum:
the sounds of bells

So many red ribbons twisted against shoulders, around candles, against hips. I was asked to light a candle for all those who died in North America from AIDS. Several others joined me, representing other continents. During the ceremony, I went up to the microphone and said, This candle is for the memory of all the people who have died because of AIDS in North America.

When all the candles had been lit, attendees were encouraged to call out the names of loved ones who had also died. We stood there, facing a sea of names, called out into the air, illuminated by the shadows of light. I cried, fearing my wild salt would blow out the light of my candle, but instead it just tumbled down my face.

Steven, I wanted to tell you that you’re a poem.
Your skin, plowed away from this disease, is a poem.
Your breath, pushed out by melted musculature, is a poem.
Your smile lit the church organ on fire, pushing pipes into sheets of enflamed music.

You said, “Goodbye“, after we each grabbed a white balloon and walked our way through the church, outside past several canals. And when we were given the signal, we all let go of our balloons. Many had names attached. These hand-written names floated toward the moon. Bag pipers played and I should have told you how beautiful you were are.

I left the next day, still lovelorn. Before I arrived in this magical land, I thought maybe Amsterdam would help me “find myself”. Humans do this; we go places to find the selves we think we’ve lost. I’ve been searching for my lost self for decades. I do not need a passport to find it. And I certainly don’t need love to validate it. Poems, maybe. Light, yes. Music, definitely. Breath, always.

elephants are contagious

sand prints built into feet

elephants are contagious.
warhol’s rorschach could be man-eating fallatio or four-legged mammal dissected or a crime scene of AIDS on body or just some paint on canvas.
why that woman has 2 am eyes with nose like ladder without the foot breaks.
arrive with DNA waving against floorboards, fallen from head shake.
some feet are abusive, turning rock granules called sand into concave whimpers.
she dies: too much evaporated cane juice bruised into peanut grind and what it feels like to call a spoon murder weapon.

this is when it could have happened

Would sex happen more if there were no letter combinations like AIDS, STD, HPV, AZT? Why can’t forgiveness occur when mothers leave daughters behind? What is the shape of embarrassment found from the dismissal of love? If you can still smell her does this mean you are too close? Why are you so afraid of this body? Can one receive an allergy from a lover like pregnancy? Is it Sunday? Can you tell by the way that I walk? If I forget your name, will you stop existing? When does death become more than romantic plagiarism? Don’t let me address you like a human? What happens when you put gender on a grid? How does place influence your work? How much of this is you? Do you stand, sipping on Brooklyn and weather veins? If I tell you, will you still find me beautiful? How can anyone begin anywhere when everywhere is difficult to emerge from? Does it make sense that she wants to be cut upon with knives purchased from the bodega in the shape of torn apart razors just to remove her father’s fingerprints? And she gathered? And she lied? How do bruises fail our bodies? Are you a man who has had sex with a man anytime from 1977 to the present? Have you had sex for money or drugs anytime from 1977 to the present? What is your distraction? If you work until you collapse, who will pick you up and soothe you back toward consciousness? How do you take away the carbon without maintaining the echoes of imprints? Why do you keep looking at the door? Do you call yourself a homo to get back at us for leaving you? Why do you wake up in the morning? What is the sound stars make the moment they are noticed? Am I queer enough? Would you notice if I amputated my life away? If I practice harder at being a boy will you fuck me like one? Why do they always thank god after winning awards instead of their bodies? Why didn’t you take off your bra when we slept together? Will you watch me walk away? If writing is a prayer, how can I call myself an atheist? What is at stake? Have you ever taken Jesus into your mouth? Would you swallow? Would you go back?