HIV-Negative: How the Uninfected Are Affected by AIDS
Copyright © 1995 by William I. Johnston
New York: Insight Books-Plenum Press
The crested iris by the front gate waves
its blue flags three days, exactly,
then they vanish. The peony buds'
tight wrappings are edged crimson;
when they open, a little blood-color
will ruffle at the heart of the flounced,
unbelievable white. Three weeks after the test,
the vial filled from the crook
of my elbow, I'm seeing blood everywhere:
a casual nick from the garden shears,
a shaving cut and I feel the physical rush
of the welling up, the wine-fountain
dark as Siberian iris. The thin green porcelain
teacup, our homemade Ouija's planchette,
rocks and wobbles every night, spins
and spells. It seems a cloud of spirits
numerous as lilac panicles vie for occupancy --
children grabbing for the telephone,
happy to talk to someone who isn't dead yet?
Everyone wants to speak at once, or at least
these random words appear, incongruous
and exactly spelled: energy, immunity, kiss.
Then: M. has immunity. W. has.
And that was all. One character, Frank,
distinguishes himself: a boy who lived
in our house in the thirties, loved dogs
and gangster movies, longs for a body,
says he can watch us through the television,
asks us to stand before the screen
and kiss. God in garden, he says.
Sitting out on the back porch at twilight,
I'm almost convinced. In this geometry
of paths and raised beds, the green shadows
of delphinium, there's an unseen rustling:
some secret amplitude
seems to open in this orderly space.
Maybe because it contains so much dying,
all these tulip petals thinning
at the base until any wind takes them.
I doubt anyone else would see that, looking in,
and then I realize my garden has no outside, only is
subjectively. As blood is utterly without
an outside, can't be seen except out of context,
the wrong color in alien air, no longer itself.
Though it submits to test, two,
to be exact, each done three times,
though not for me, since at their first entry
into my disembodied blood
there was nothing at home there.
For you they entered the blood garden over
and over, like knocking at a door
because you know someone's home. Three times
the Elisa Test, three the Western Blot,
and then the incoherent message. We're
the public health care worker's
nine o'clock appointment,
she is a phantom hand who forms
the letters of your name, and the word
that begins with P. I'd lie out
and wait for the god if it weren't
so cold, the blue moon huge
and disruptive above the flowering crab's
foaming collapse. The spirits say Fog
when they can't speak clearly
and the letters collide; sometimes
for them there's nothing outside the mist
of their dying. Planchette,
peony, I would think of anything
not to say the word. Maybe the blood
in the flower is a god's. Kiss me,
in front of the screen, please,
the dead are watching.
They haven't had enough yet.
Every new bloom is falling apart.
I would say anything else
in the world, any other word.
"I've been having these
awful dreams, each a little different,
though the core's the same --
we're walking in a field,
Wally and Arden and I, a stretch of grass
with a highway running beside it,
or a path in the woods that opens
onto a road. Everything's fine,
then the dog sprints ahead of us,
excited; we're calling but
he's racing down a scent and doesn't hear us,
and that's when he goes
onto the highway. I don't want to describe it.
Sometimes it's brutal and over,
and others he's struck and takes off
so we don't know where he is
or how bad. This wakes me
every night now, and I stay awake;
I'm afraid if I sleep I'll go back
into the dream. It's been six months,
almost exactly, since the doctor wrote
not even a real word
but an acronym, a vacant
that draws meanings into itself,
reconstitutes the world.
We tried to say it was just
a word; we tried to admit
it had power and thus to nullify it
by means of our acknowledgement.
Oh I know the current wisdom:
bright hope, the power of wishing you're well.
He's just so tired, though nothing
shows in any tests, Nothing,
the doctor says, detectable;
the doctor doesn't hear what I do,
that trickling, steadily rising nothing
that makes him sleep all day,
vanish into fever's tranced afternoons,
and I swear sometimes
when I put my head to his chest
I can hear the virus humming
like a refrigerator.
Which is what makes me think
you can take your positive attitude
and go straight to hell.
We don't have a future,
we have a dog.
Who is he?
Soul without speech,
sheer, tireless faith,
he is that-which-goes-forward,
black muzzle, black paws
scouting what's ahead;
he is where we'll be hit first,
he's the part of us
that's going to get it.
I'm hardly awake on our morning walk
-- always just me and Arden now --
and sometimes I am still
in the thrall of the dream,
which is why, when he took a step onto Commercial
before I'd looked both ways,
I screamed his name and grabbed his collar.
And there I was on my knees,
both arms around his neck
and nothing coming,
and when I looked into that bewildered face
I realized I didn't know what it was
I was shouting at,
I didn't know who I was trying to protect."
I thought your illness a kind of solvent
dissolving the future a little at a time;
I didn't understand what's to come
was always just a glimmer
up ahead, veiled like the marsh
gone under its tidal sheet
of mildly rippling aluminum.
What these salt distances were
is also where they're going:
from blankly silvered span
toward specificity: the curve
of certain brave islands of grass,
temporary shoulder-wide rivers
where herons ply their twin trades
of study and desire. I've seen
two white emissaries rise
and unfold like heaven's linen, untouched,
enormous, a fluid exhalation. Early spring,
too cold yet for green, too early
for the tumble and wrack of last season
to be anything but promise,
but there in the air was white tulip,
marvel, triumph of all flowering, the soul
lifted up, if we could still believe
in the soul, after so much diminishment...
Breath, from the unpromising waters,
up, across the pond and the two lane highway,
pure purpose, over the dune,
gone. Tomorrow's unreadable
as this shining acreage;
the future's nothing
but this moment's gleaming rim.
Now the tide's begun
its clockwork turn, pouring,
in the day's hourglass,
toward the other side of the world,
and our dependable marsh reappears
-- emptied of that starched and angular grace
that spirited the ether, lessened,
but here. And our ongoingness,
what there'll be of us? Look,
love, the lost world
rising from the waters again:
our continent, where it always was,
emerging from the half-light,
unforgettable, drenched, unchanged.
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Conclusion · Appendix A B C · Notes · Contributors