The last time I saw you, Steven, you were huddled in bed,
blankets piled over your body,
you were shaking and shivering so much
there was nothing that could stop it;
your hands bunching the pillows,
your legs threshing the sheets,
you screaming over and over Lord I want to die
please just let me die.
And I sat cupping your head as if that could do anything
as if there was anything I could do
feed you tea hold your hands give you more blankets
crawl into bed and lie on top of you;
my stomach on your back
my arms around your stomach;
anything to give you warmth, just a little bit of warmth.
It was summer; it was New York; I was back in town and
you were dying. I could sit in waiting rooms
I could help you in and out of cabs and up and down stairs
I could cook for you and wash your dishes and
get you shrimp lo mein I could wrap your neck
with towels soaked in warm water
talk with you about our favorite poets and
that little magazine we used to edit and
how you wanted to be back in Indiana and
everything was over, everything we knew was over.
It was summer, it was New York, it had been a year
since I had left; and you had buried your lover and you
had lesions all over your body and when I sat in bed with you,
pulled your shirt up to give you a massage
and felt your spine between my fingers
you started crying about the last time anyone had touched you
and how your parents were always yelling,
coming to visit and yelling,
blaming you for everything,
and all your friends had deserted you except Michael and Anne;
and Anne lived in Boston and MIchael never touched you.
Now Michael calls me and I still do not know why I am healthy
and you are dead. Then Michael tells me how you died;
in a hospital, alone, 32. Yes I can picture that.
I can picture that or the night we sat on your fire escape;
it was summer, a different summer; we were smoking a joint and
you were telling me about the man you had just met whom you really like, you really liked him a lot.
Was it safe to kiss, that’s what you wanted to know. Steven,
isn’t that just the most awful question: is it safe to kiss?
I just can’t.