This Has Happened Before
Prolonged COVID-mandated sheltering in place over the spring and early summer of 2020 gave me the opportunity to start disposing of personal documents that at some point in the relatively near future — I’m now 72 years old — will be of little interest and unnecessary bother to anyone dealing with 40 years of journals, news clippings, unidentifiable photographs, and the occasional recipe.
While shredding away, I found a pocket notebook that I kept from 1986 to 1997, during the worst years of the AIDS epidemic in New York City; I had kept it as a help in organizing memorial services (eventually, there were 38). There were notations and contact information for relatives, newspapers, venues, florists, ministers, rabbis, a rebel Jesuit and a terrific Wiccan priestess — as well as scribbled notes to self, such as “family is Southern Baptist ODG, get rid of porn”; “F. hated sonnets”; “Sondheim again! write something about Into the Woods and urban mythology”; etc., etc., one heartbreaking etc. after another.
Some of the notes to self eventually became poems, a few of which — much later — appeared in print. But finding the notebook, 23 years after its last entry — torn red cover, unwinding wire binding — made me think about going back and putting them together in the chronological order they suggested themselves.
The result is I’ll Miss You Later — one poem in 20 parts, forged in one epidemic — during an administration that initially did nothing because the initial affected populations were deemed undesirable (i.e., gay, Haitian, drug addicts) — and assembled in another epidemic under an administration that initially did nothing because the initial affected population was deemed non-essential (i.e., old).
Since I’m now both old and gay, I have no idea how I’m still here. What follows are five poems from the collection, pieces which made me realize poets and epidemiologists have something in common: love and viruses never disappear completely — and they share the disquieting habit of showing up again when least expected.
How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually, and then suddenly.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Our trip took longer than expected
due to stops scheduled and un-
changes in destination and
even though the mirror kept reminding me
objects were closer than they appeared
a warning I chose to disregard
then suddenly I was there
you were not.
Your memorial service has gathered
an interesting crowd
many with amusing secrets
who have begun to mingle
with the grief and coffee.
Which makes me think
this would be a good time
to avoid your husband —
we both know why —
introduce myself to
the smoldering leather jacket
standing near the door.
I’ll miss you later.
PSL for viral epidemics
is characterized by invisible silver linings
doors slam shut as windows open
things happen for a reason, one of which is
what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger or
at the very least hasn’t killed us yet
So while everything else in our lives
may be going all to hell
it’s a good thing we all speak
Platitude as a second language
As the designated porn collector
I was a one-man special ops team
going in ahead of the family
with a map of where to look for what
And now — call me Ishmael
because there’s no one left
for me to ask —
to whom it may concern:
If you’re reading this
you’ve figured out my password
and met those special friends
about whom I never talked.
Please think of them as
minimally dressed mourners
enlivening the funeral and
reading of the will.
And yes there are a few
favorites in the group who
deserve special recognition
for their years of faithful service.
I’m sure you’ll be able to cope.
This post has been republished on Medium.
I’ll Miss You Later Kindle Edition