AIDS Ward

San Francisco, 1991

This is the bed, empty again,
next to the man dying. This is

the strap that ties down
the man that lies next to the empty bed.

This is the daughter untying the strap
that restrains the man that lies

in an empty room where he is dying
on a floor full of rooms, emptying.

This is daughter who speaks
to the man who can’t remember her

who brings him grapes he cannot eat
and refuses the gloves from the nurse

and kicks the mask under the bed
in the empty room where the man

is dying on a floor full
of emptied rooms.

This is the girl who unties the straps
for the man who hit her with his hands

and draws the curtain across the empty bed
and hates the smell of latex, the sight of masks

on the nurses who float past, not looking
at her and the man who is dying.

These are the weeks the girl watches the walls
instead of the man, whose skin is piss-yellow and eyes

are piss-yellow, who shakes and drools and shits
himself and who doesn’t know who she is.

As the nurses push past and beds fill up fast
and empty again, walled off by white curtains.

This is the ward that speaks in whispers
walled off by white curtains from public view.

This is the floor you dream in nightmares
where the cruel man dies in an empty room

and the nurses bring you blankets
on a floor full of whispers, empty and cold.

This is the father that dies in the room
in a ward of nightmares that existed in whispers.

This is the ward people whisper about.