New York City

A Bit of a Twit

I’m trying to think if I ever really loved a president and I don’t think I did. Johnson was a baby-burner, Nixon a killjoy and a sneak. Ford, meh. Carter, double-meh. As for Reagan, I couldn’t stand him. We had all these dying AIDS patients and he acted like there was no epidemic. One night Lucy and I were driving around waiting for something to happen when we saw a guy with one of those big cardboard cutouts that people pose with. He had an instant camera, so we got him to take a picture of us pretending to molest Reagan. Lucy had her stethoscope on his groin and I had my scissors out. A crowd instantly gathered to cheer us. Everyone thought it was so hilarious that medics did anything but be medics. as if we came out of a box like action figures and didn’t have any other life. I wonder if I’m part of someone’s New York story. How years ago they came to the city and saw two lady medics clowning around with Reagan, and how strange and only-in-New York it was. 

1981June 5     Los Angeles, California.

(Report of PCP cluster,  pg 2, CDC weekly newsletter)

1. Previously healthy 33 year old man developed pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and oral mucosal candidiasis March 1981. He died May 3rd.

2. Previously healthy 30 year old man developed pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in April 1981 after five months of fever. Pneumonia responded to a course of TMP/SMX. As of latest reports he continues to have a fever each day.

3. 30 year old man was well until January 1981. In February developed pneumocystis carinii pneumonia that responded to oral TMP/SMX. Esophogeal candidiasis recurred after pneumonia was diagnosed.

4. 29 year old man developed pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in February 1981. He had been diagnose with Hodgkin's Disease three years earlier and successfully treated with radiation alone. Pneumonia did not respond to treatment and he died in March.

5. Previously healthy 36 year old man diagnosed in April 1981 with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. He is still being treated.

All the players in history have stories, though. Even if we’re just props for someone else’s tale. I know I’m in a bunch of far-flung people’s life and death memories. And some people are in mine. Nameless, with their faces mushing together. Who was Lazarus? Just a man born to be raised from the grave?

All five were active homosexuals./All five used poppers./None of the men knew each other./None had sexual partners in common.

I think I only remember molesting Reagan because I have that photograph. 

Just a few paragraphs on the second page of a dry newsletter./Not news. An oddity, a strange confluence of events. 

It seems like what happens is, a few things get haphazardly frozen in time like that, but the rest I have to spend months reconstructing. Because I didn’t know it was going to be important.

In west-coast gay world, a vague sense of unease./Blinking in the morning sun/Venice Beach no longer entirely bakes away the effects of the night before.

I keep thinking I should keep a journal. Right now, of the Trump times. Document how no one I know can sleep, how we obsessively flit from one newsite to another. The way I wake up every morning wondering what he did while I was lying in bed, staring at the inside of my eyelids.

Before, the five men were: a hairdresser, a freelance model, a drug-addicted swinger, a publicist, and a hardworking man in a monogamous relationship.

That sounds so normal. Like it could be five men today. Except for the drug-addicted swinger. He’d be a drug addicted loser now, and people would be trying to get him to reform himself before he OD’d.

What became of the three who still lived?/I don't know. All had thrush./Deranged white cell counts. Fevers and sweats./They must have died soon after./But that's just speculation/ based on my expectation./It doesn't have to be true.

Part of me thinks, it must be on the internet. Everything is. I even found a death notice for my great-great-uncle who drowned January 7, 1906, in Dawson Creek in the Yukon. 

I search and search, trying to find a reference online/as to what became of the men./ Nothing./They’re not men. Not anymore./When they got sick/they stopped being human, and became a part of history./Who they loved, who lost them,/Who cares? They're only our beacons now/Blinking a warning into the fog.

What's actually interesting?


As I’m working on revising and cutting today, I keep wondering, what’s actually interesting? Does anyone care that my partner Errol at Met used to have dreams in 1981 that guided us when we played the numbers? Now that there are no numbers, and hardly anyone remembers Ching-Chow. 

In the year of our Lord 1927, an inscrutable cartoon/entitled “Ching-Chow” appeared/in the New York Daily News.  

We never actually hit, but we always came close. That was what kept us going. Some of the others guys at Met used Ching-Chow, but they didn’t have any better luck than us. I remember someone teaching me how to do it one night. It had to do with counting the horizontal lines.

For 63 years, Ching-Chow’s elliptical captions/graced those pages. If you knew what to look for/if you had the knack, you could predict the outcome/of the daily numbers game.

There was a place we would drive to, I think on 2nd Avenue, where you could put down money—for us, $3— and then periodically stop by to find out which number had come in. The first one, the second one, then by the end of the shift they had all three.

Everyone played the numbers./That brokedown brick road to riches.

We’d get the first two, then the rest of the shift we’d talk about what we were going to buy with our loot. Now that there’s the legal lottery games, no one plays the numbers. Is it interesting that we did? That it was so woven into life in the eighties, no one even thought about it? At some point, everyone who played the numbers will be dead. Then, will people want to know the details? Or will it just be like vacuum-cleaner bags. Like, who cares?

Did that really happen?


Writing is so much about remembering. Or more accurately, re-feeling. But sometimes when I’m going over my past, working on a poem, I think, “Did I just make this all up?” Like it’s some story I told and somehow the world believed it and it turned into memories. 

1983 July 4 

52nd Street. The abuelos play dominos on a TV tray/Boombox tuned to Spanish music/Little boys tumble in the fire hydrant spray/On this hot afternoon black-cat smoke up to my knees./We have a stat transfer. St. Clare’s ICU to Bellevue. Critical./Could there be a place grimmer than the St. Clare’s CCU?

Yes. Directly across the hall/The ICU lacks even flimsy privacy curtains/And is stuffed full of neurological casualties. There’s no staff./The place where the doctors and nurses sit/Surrounded by plexiglass similar to the bulletproof enclosure at a liquor store/Is over yonder. In CCU.

Our transfer is on a respirator, surrounded by a tangle of wires and tubing./I look at his chart. From what I can make out he was on the floor/Crashed, and got rushed to ICU./His blood pressure is being maintained with drugs./He has uncontrollable arrythmias./He must be transferred to Bellevue as soon as possible.

                        from BrokeDown Palace


I know this call really happened. But it seems so absurd. How could there have been an ICU where the medical staff is across the hall behind two closed doors? Maybe it was only that way on holidays. The other strange thing about that day was there was only one doctor covering the ICU, CCU, and all the floors, so they didn’t have anyone to ride with us. I know it wasn’t like that usually. But my friend Bonnie went to visit the AIDS ward with a group of singles one afternoon in the early 1990s and they never saw any medical people. She said the entire place seemed to be run by guys in hospital gowns who were smoking, drinking beer, and playing poker.

20,000 Ambulance Calls

Today, I calculated how many ambulance calls I did in my life, and it’s around 20,000. Then all the driving around in between calls, hanging out with cops or homeless people, meeting the men who built shacks on the pier, bullshitting with other units. It’s a lot to remember. The starkest things pop up fastest; homicides, people under the train, jumpers. But the rest is there, I know. I’ll be biking by a corner and think, oh, there used to be a boxing club on the second floor here, where the men were all black and spanish and the coaches were white. We had a berry aneurism in one of the rings.

Below is what I was writing today. As I worked on it, I suddenly remembered there was an apartment on West 30th Street inhabited by albinos. The twin girls were drug addicts, the 20 year old brother was on oxygen and smoked crack, and the oldest sister had an enormous ovarian cyst that made her look nine months pregnant. I can still see the brother’s room in my mind.


Across from St. Clare’s, on the second floor of a nondescript tenement, stood a peculiar urban outpost of darkest Appalachia. The apartment itself was a mechanical impossibility. Every grease-coated wall leaned inward. Every faucet dripped. A bulb screwed into the ceiling gave almost no light, but somehow illuminated each spatter and smear. This edifice contained not a single bright or decorative object. No salt and pepper shakers, no little statuettes. No pictures. Nothing. Only two jobless, toothless inhabitants. Grace and Bobby. Mother and son.                    (from BrokeDown Palace)

trying not to revise the past

BrokeDown Palace is a history in poetry. The history of the hospital I worked at, and the history of myself and the people who came before and along with me to build it. I was there for the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000s. Right now, I've organized the poems by decades and those are by far the fullest. But in a certain way they're harder to write. If I write about the world of St. Clare, for whom the hospital was named, I can build a world from distant history. Maybe it's the way it was or maybe it's not, but I'm not revising it trying to please my picture of myself.

You were born in the Mongol years/You could have met the son of Genghis Kahn./Eleven years old when the crusaders sacked Constantinople/Who were you? A noble child, wrenched by love/of poverty in her rough tunic/St. Francis in the moonlight, eyes like torches . . .

When I get to poems about the 1980s, I have to fight off the desire to improve my past. In light of what came after. It takes so many drafts to get beyond this, and I don't know if I always do.