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November 2000

I walked daily
near the window of the house
which framed the dying man.

Saw his silhouette
sometimes seated, usually reclined
always thinner
as the sounds of television,
muted talk of visiting friends
made shadows around his bed.
Once I caught the outline
of a nurse hovered over
his extended arm
heard a twisted groaning
as I hurried, late to work...

In the morning, light
from uncurtained windows
on the far side of his house
would shine across the hardwood floor
stopping at the bed
a whisper-reach from where I passed;
I saw highlights on the blankets,
his young man's sleeping head
cheeks hollow, mouth agape
propped up on pillows --
later, on a rolling bed
with railings high
that bound his wrists.

I hoped my routine footsteps,
the gate lock turning
would not wake him
as I went about my day
a little guilty of my health
my freedom, my mobility
speeding past the sports car
sunken, now and dust-brown
with four flat tires.

I was glad to see a cute new tenant
when Rick moved into the house next door
another artist on the hill
would be a welcome neighbor;
saw his photographs through an open window
large color prints of high-style women
but he never asked me in.

Recently I saw him at a local bar
he kissed someone, it caught my eye
but he brushed past me for the door.
Was I mistaken? Did he not see me?
Was there something
I was not supposed to know?

Now I watched while passing by
shadows of an ominous play,
nurses, buddies, twelve hour shifts,
hospital smells in the morning air
Meals on Wheels each afternoon;
sullen, narrow shoulders
of an oxygen tank
beside the high profile of an IV bag
dangling high like a hanged man,
lights ablaze at four a.m.
as I wake up to take a pee;
the rushing, flushing
commotions of a private war.

I said little.
Went to work.
Came home.
Made the motions
of the walking well.

His friend said in the last few days
he clung to a life
which had become unsustainable.
"Why are you holding on?"
he asked his dying friend.
They were all exhausted
aiding, comforting,
at last facilitating
an uncontestable passage;
there were no more breaths
for euphemism;
the buttress of manners
redundant as scaffold
on a finished building
so the dying man was asked
Why do you linger?
"It must have helped," the friend concluded.
"Rick died the next day."

After that the house went dark
possessions carted off and scattered
his friends all thanked me --
but what did I do?
Took out the trash on Tuesday night
swept the path and kept my distance.
They thanked me, hugged me -- why?
I didn't go to say hello
didn't want to say good-bye,
pretending we were friends
'cause we were not.
We were only neighbors.

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).

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This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.
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