April 2nd “I heard ‘pulse ox’ and then ‘coding’ and then

I heard “pulse ox” and then “coding” and then
Elliott batTzedek

a lack of time and then
all tubed-up in a bed with a view
of Santa Catalina a place where no one
loved me so I lay alone down to
117 pounds so close to my goal
of not being
trays of hospital fare untouched, hunger
just another part of a body
I no longer felt.

As I had not felt myself not breathing, steroids
for the asthma in the distant past
of September’s fat jeans.

On the overnight shift, the one reserved
for gay nurses, fat nurses, old nurses, he
found me awake and shaking, refused to measure
vital signs on someone clearly not vital but asked
if I would like my back rubbed, skin
no one had touched in all the months Orange County
had been digesting me.

Lotion warmed in his palms spread as wide and
venturesome as God’s hands shaping clay, pushing
flesh while seeking life spark, he hummed only
soft syllables until I fell asleep enough to wake
to the morning on which I ate.

I could find him, say what you did, the gay gossip network
that would be more powerful than the 26 years
slipped past if not for this
hard fact:

it was 1985 in Southern California—
all my sources are on the AIDs quilt
which is itself out of style
and packed away.


2 thoughts on “April 2nd “I heard ‘pulse ox’ and then ‘coding’ and then

  1. Today is my birthday. I am a registered nurse. My brother is HIV pos. Your poem touched me.

  2. I’m glad it did. When I started writing, I didn’t know the poem was building toward this ending, but was just remembering how his hands felt so comforting when everything else in my life was a hostile wreck. I of course don’t know for sure what happened to him, but I do know the infection and death rate at that point in that place.

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