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.