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.

R.I.P., My Love

Tory Dent, 1958 - 2005
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 regained if aggressive medical action were taken, or despite
these best efforts, lost like missing children in the brambles of poor fortune. 
The suffering of another's I can only envision through the mimesis of my own,
the alarming monitor next door in lieu of a heartbeat signifying cardiac arrest, 
prompts a scurry of interns and nurses, their urgent footsteps to which
I listen, inert and prostrate, as if subject to the ground tremors of 
a herd of buffalo or horses, just a blur in the parched and post-nuclear distance.
I listen, perhaps the way the wounded will listen to the continuing war, 
so different sounding than before, the assault of noise now deflected against
consciousness rather than serving as motivation for patriotism and targets. 
Like fistfuls of dirt loaded with pebbles and rocks thrown at my front door,
I knew that the footsteps would soon be running to me also.
The blood pressure cuff swaddled around my arm pumped in its diastolic state
independently like an iced organ ready for transplant
as I witnessed with one circular rove of my eyes my body now dissected
into television sets, like one of those asymmetrical structures 
that serves as a model for a molecular unity in elementary science classes.
And the plastic bags of IV fluids that hung above me, a Miró-like mobile or iconic toy 
for an infant's amusement, measured the passing of time by virtue of their depletion. 
Sometimes I could count almost five and then seven swinging vaguely above me at 4 am.
I remember the first, hand-held high above me when I arrived via ambulance at the ER,
the gurney accelerating as a voice exclaims on the color of my hands "they're blue!". 
Another voice (deeper) virtually yells out into the chaos that she can't get a pulse.
Several pairs of scissors begin simultaneously to cut off my clothes, their shears
working their way upward like army ants from pant cuff and shirt-sleeve, 
a formulaic move for the ER staff which, despite its routine, still retains
a sense of impromptu in the hurriedness of the cutting both deft and crude,
in the sound of their increased breathing, of their efforts intensified by my blood 
pressure dropping, the numbers shouted out as if into night fog and ocean.
It's not a lack of professionalism but the wager of emotional investment that I feel.
One attendant, losing her aplomb for a moment, can't contain herself from remarking 
(as if I'm already post-mortem) on what a great bra I have;
"Stretch lace demi-cup, Victoria's Secret," I respond politely in my head.
In turn, when they put the oxygen tube into my nose I thought immediately
of Ali McGraw on her death bed in Love Story and how good she looked in one.
And then the catheter where I pissed continually into a bottle like a paraplegic
let me in on the male fear of castration 
my focus centered entirely on that tube, its vulnerable rigging
which I held onto tenderly throughout the night like something dying 
against my thigh or something birthing. I held on though the IV in my forearm 
overextended with a kind of pleading, the needle hooked deep into a mainstream vein 
the way in deep sea fishing lines are cast into the darkest water,
my body thrashing about in the riverweed of its fluids.
The translucent infrastructure of IVs and oxygen tubes superimposed itself upon me
like a body double, more virulent and cold, like Leda pinned and broken by her swan, 
like the abandoned and organ-failed regarding its superior soul ascend.
So completely and successfully reconfigured within its technological construct
my body proper no longer existed, my vital signs highlighted in neon 
preceded the spiraling vortex of my interiority,
the part of me people will say later that that's what they loved
when they roam about in the cramped rare book library of their memory
for a couple of minutes and think of "Tory". 
Movement can only be accounted in shadows, Virilio informs us,
the reconciliation of oneself in one's disappearance.
An anachronistic sundial, I turn my profile
and the fluorescence falls unfractured, unmediated onto the postmodern tenebrism
of absence against absence, my quickened inhalations against my backless gown.
My love for you, my love, for my friends, untethers and floats, 
snaps apart and off me like the I.V. tubes and monitor wires
the flailed arms of an octopus unfolding without gravity,
as I reach up in a Frankensteinian effort to shut off my monitors,
the constant alarming of the human prototype my own body keeps rejecting,
while death moves closer, a benign presence.
It stands respectfully just outside the perimeters of my life
and adjusts itself the way the supervising nurse did the monitor perimeters 
to suit my declining vital signs so I could get some sleep.
I felt a relationship with death, a communication, it was more familiar
than I ever imagined, what I had always returned to as the sign of me, the self
we attribute to the mysterious and perfectly ordered Romantic notion of origin.
What I'm trying to say is that it was not foreign. It was not foreign,
but it was not a homecoming either.
There was no god, no other land, no beyond;
no amber, no amethyst, no avatar.
But there was a suspension, there was an adieu to recognition
to the shoes of those I love, like Van Gogh's, a pair but alone
the voices of loved ones, their tones, their intonations, like circulation,
closed-circuited but effective.
There was a listless but clear-thinking comfort that into my own eyes
I would go, although not "into" in the Bachelardian sense
which implies diminishment; there was none of that.
It was just the opposite: expansion but without a pioneer's vision.
What we regard as the "self" extended itself, but I wouldn't say in a winged way,
over the Bosch-like landscape of brutal interactions
and physical pain and car alarms and the eternal drilling of disappointment
the exigent descendence of everyday that everyday you peer down or up
its daunting staircase, nauseous with vertigo
gathering like straw the rudimentary characteristics of courage, gumption, innovation
and faking it to the hilt like a hilarious onslaught of sham orgasms.
Transcendence might be the term Emerson would lend it.
What I'm trying to say is that it wasn't lonely.

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

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

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