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About this poet

In 1958, Tory Dent was born in Wilmington, Delaware. She received a bachelor's degree from Barnard College in 1981 and a master's degree in creative writing at New York University.

She is the author of three volumes of poetry: Black Milk (Sheep Meadow Press, 2005), HIV, Mon Amour (1999), which won the 1999 James Laughlin Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and What Silence Equals (1993), the title taken from a slogan by the AIDS activist group Act Up.

Dent detailed her struggle with HIV in the vivid and unflinching poems of HIV, Mon Amour. About the book, Yusef Komunyakaa said, "This collection is a whirlpool of energy that seems to be reaching for cinematic clarity, driven by a need to confront modern psychology and ontology until there's a focus of certainty. Here's a map where ideas and experiences collide, and what rises out of the landscape underneath is a poetry that is painful and truthful, beautiful and terrifying, lyrical and narrative, always engaging the intellect and body politic."

Her honors include grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund; The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award; and three PEN American Center Grants for Writers with AIDS.

Her poetry appeared the anthologies Life Sentences (1994), The Exact Change Yearbook (1995), In the Company of my Solitude (1995), and Things Shaped in Passing (1997). An essay entitled “The Deferred Dream,” an excerpt from her memoir-in-progress, Many Rivers to Cross, appeared in the collection Bearing Life: Women’s Writings on Childlessness (ed. Rochelle Ratner, The Feminist Press, 2001).

Tory Dent also wrote art criticism for magazines including Arts, Flash Art, and Parachute, as well as catalogue essays for art exhibitions. She lived in New York City and Maine and died in December 2005.

The Pressure

Tory Dent, 1958 - 2005

for Thomas Nash, M.D.

Too many times have I with the sun on my back, flamboyant, heinously direct,
rocked, wrung hands, my shaking head refuged in a now-wet Bounty paper towel
or institutionalized inside the free-space of my bedroom that opens like a file
on my computer screen with that which I'm constantly trying to put a name to,
the way faces in my past automatically assign to themselves signifying feelings.
Like a shot of B12 effective only if injected intramuscularly I am neutralized
as a naming vehicle by this pressure that cannot be extracted like a billboard
or wisdom tooth. No torii erects itself as gateway to the totem of experience, no
descriptive alloy exists to transform or rebirth the most primitive and bare-boned,
the referential instability of physical pain no human agency speaks successfully 
in lieu of. Gritty locks felled into the sloth of tears, their salty
aftermarks imbricating my face, a kind of warrior's mask of a warrior's failure
afore the clandestine ideal of physical perfection: O poster of Marky Mark 
that posits itself like an Aryan agenda against every public bus, a tableau of prayer
ossified for us to emulate. Celebrities represent what Grecian gods were once. 

"Life quality" tropes the category doctors refer to with fake jocularity:
a terse smile, a quick nod, not cavalierly, really, but with no affinity either.
While I present, in crude form like an outhouse, an ideology, a practicum
my pretty breasts should make for its manifest example, but all the while
there is this pressure, iconic in nature to modify it paradoxically,
an omniscience, high-noon hot, slutty, demonic hologram embossed like Bergman's
Seventh Seal on the Silly Putty shape of my heart. The muscle adapts, adopts
the image as if the imagined face of a Bosnian orphan, the brow-swept features
twisted and bathed in a mucus for which its tiny tributary paths serve as the deaf,
dumb, and blind substitution for the mature articulation of longing and hate.
The child cries; the diastole blooms in branding exaction. The child sleeps
while pellets of sun cinder twitch and wink on the horizon; the systole 
deflates, erects as if a l'oiseau de Paradis in order to convey 
the agony of form in the rigor of its stem, or freak flowering, an ugly orange.

My physician's intelligent brow reframes behind his desk with diacritic distinction
like the beard of Zeus appearing within a cloud, a fated fetus
within the belly of its turbid future. Like a reversing falls framed and frozen
forced to hiatus by virtue of the very process of its reversing action
so does the pressure to live and the pressure to die halt momentarily and present,
as if a utilized gift certificate from the three wise men, a Marlboro man genie,
the mirage-like sense of an empty room, its empirical standard: "peace of mind"
charretted into a tangible utopia, an echo-chamber of existential thought
that operates like the Mecca vision of regarding a fish tank while on morphine
where I am able to walk unbothered for a while as if along a long, white beach.
Where I am able to stand and contemplate my life, the concept and its definitions.
Where I am able to close my eyes and revel in the memory, the voice and face
the jokes, the silences, the passion, the fights, of someone I loved deeply who died. 
Where trapped in the tar gut of solitary confinement I wake and am no longer blind.

I inspect my life line, its silly prescience, on the breathing moon-surface
of my palm, yet alert to any irregularity that might augur some imminent abortion.
The Bic fine point remains poised for further notation on the indecipherable list 
of questions and comments I've arranged for this consultation, but ineffectually 
for no amount of brainstorming could bulwark permanently this pressure built with
superhuman innovation and efficiency as the Egyptians did their pyramids;
before the pushing and the turning and the typhoon-like whirling starts up again.
It both buoys and sinks with me inside it, bad poem scrolled inside a Pepsi bottle,
gaining and losing, I sleep and lose sleep and rethink and rethink the perimeters,
the scientific course of which I know nothing and yet must know something by now,
more than the wet Bounty paper towel. What I know is the pressure, the stranglehold 
of sadistic knees, the Devil's compression into the soles of my feet, scalding spittle
of gods that mimic my buffoonery, the bullet-proof sky, the ongoing erasure of the earth
and those enfolded within it, innocuous as a tidal cove, so complacent and measured.

What I know is that the only way to stabilize is to ride through it, a raft
regaining its equilibrium in white-shark rapids, a lesser stone, bespeckled pebble
amidst a chortling brook's current or contending ego within the rock-throwing forces 
dark feelings resort to in the narcissistic forum of their past belittlement.
What I know is the two rivers, the patient's and my own, that fork like a divining rod
toward some essentially healing source. What I know is that I'm both people,
one sick and one well, contending with the ongoing struggle of trying to save myself.
The x-ray glows extraterrestrial and nefarious in the late December blackness
that infiltrates my physician's office and obscures all other objects and details
other than his head, my x-ray, his desk lamp, and that strange, uncurtained window
that seems to erase all at once, in one glance, my hope of long term survival.
My torso, decapitated and cut off at the elbows, shifts in and out of focus
as if a Jane Doe resurfacing after days in the silt and oily waters of the Hudson.

"Look, an infection," my doctor declares with index finger pointed in discovery.
I blink twice, straining for recognition as I do with any picture of myself.
The shadow he refers to bursts white and translucent and upon first impression
it appears optimistic as if a good omen were growing like an orchid in my bosom.
My impulse is to be alone with the x-ray like a loved one and the incarcerated,
to press the picture of my unhealthy lung against its double but breathing one.
What I know is the desire to resuscitate, mouth to mouth, open the dank jaws,  
the partisan skin, as if beheld behind venetian blinds, zebra strips of soaked hair
and brown seaweed strewn across the face, and bring back as if to carry back in time
the fainting subject, the feminine form worn out from the fight. Her arms and feet
flag like pigeons, her weight, letter-light along my overdeveloped forearms,
their destiny as once sophomoric I dreamt it now drawn and quartered
into an array of listless limbs kicked up into a cloud, gray-blue and particle-
stained, of a hoof-clad road where a mare's distancing tail delineates
in the dusk evidence given in its disappearance, the myth of originary wholeness.

From HIV, Mon Amour by Tory Dent, copyright © 1999 by Tory Dent. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Sheep Meadow Press.

Tory Dent

Tory Dent

Poet Tory Dent's second collection HIV, Mon Amour detailed her struggle with HIV and received the 1999 James Laughlin Award

by this poet

poem
Only my mouth taking you in, the greenery splayed deep green.

Within my mouth, your arm inserted, a stem of gestures, breaking gracefully.

Into each other we root arbitrarily, like bushes, silken, and guttural.

Palaver, we open for the thrill of closing, for the thrill of it: opening.

The night was so humid
poem
Let us be apart then like the panoptical chambers in IC
patient X and patient Y, our names magic markered hurriedly on cardboard
and taped pell-mell to the sliding glass doors, "Mary", "Donald", "Tory";
an indication that our presence there would prove beyond temporary, like snow flurry.
Our health might be