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Diary From an AIDS Ward, 1984

Photo by Magdalena Gómez
In the latest installment of our series by acclaimed poet and performance artist Magdalena Gómez, she reminds us, “There are too many things we forget: The AIDS epidemic of recent decades, and now the victims of hurricanes and fires.” This poetry series is part of an ongoing effort to honor the people of Puerto Rico. You can see previous entries here, here, and here. (The poet urges anyone wishing to help Puerto Ricans who are rebuilding and relocating to consider donating to the Boston Foundation’s “Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico/Massachusetts Unido por Puerto Rico.”


Never knew a thing about the Saint
Vincent, hearty name
a comforting stew
in a violent December

the first ward to welcome
the men who would become
my children until mothers
chose God over religion
love over blame
woke up from the stupor of shame
that worst of all AIDS complications
Jealous mothers
returned afraid
awake that I might take their place
after one found me in bed
putting love into lesions
fields of killer berries blue
heralds of final breaths
our bodies gently threaded in tenderness

word got around
the best doctors looked away
nurses never saw a thing
as we snuggled, giggled
careful not to unplug anything
the joy of Popsicles
the birthday cakes
the friends who came
the ones who didn’t

hard conversations
thinking about the daddy you wish you had
made you mad
so many orphans of the living
be the daddy, don’t dream the daddy
daddy’s not coming
be the daddy you wish you had
don’t get jealous
get alive and live to the bone
of all the love you have to give
send your neighbor a prayer, a chocolate, a kiss
don’t miss the daddy, be the daddy
tell the bedtime story
we can all tuck each other in
be the daddy to the boy dying
days before you
become the breath you barely have
be the orchestra section of another’s life

the days endless with machines, medications
necessary interrogations
interruptions of sleep by front line miracle dreams
I wear my Reverend Mother disguise
so I can stay through the night

You make me promise
they’ll honor the DNR
no matter how you beg
whatever look of despair
comes into your eyes

You know what you want
while you still own your mind

When mama finally arrives
you’re still alive
I kiss you every time
always the chance of good-bye


The AIDS wards
Where lifetimes were lived
in moments.
Where Death wrapped us in the mercy
of seeing life for the very first time
the immortality
of Love threading body to soul
with tenderness.
Never gone too far.


-Magdalena Gómez, ©2017

Bronx-born Magdalena Gómez is a performance poet, playwright, keynote speaker and teaching artist and was an original vanguard member of the Nuyorican Literary Movement. She has been widely published including: The Massachusetts ReviewUpstreet journalL.A. Times, and many other outlets. Her work is included in college and university syllabi throughout the U.S. and her archives are housed at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut at Storrs.

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