Two Portraits of AIDS

November 1, 1997

Two Portraits of AIDS - Poetry of the Times

1.Father Paul
Less than one year and a few particles of viral protein separate us. A crucifix hangs safety-pinned to his sweater, his hollow cheeks marked with scarlet lesions. I've watched his body wither to a shadow of his cane. Parishioners pray for him, but if he names his illness they will stone him out of town.
"Let's get this over with," he demands when pneumonia moves into his boney chest. The sister who speaks only of the weather, ignores his protests and calls an ambulance.
He curses her, laughs, "I'm ready." During pain-free moments of calm, he has confessed, written his funeral mass and obituary. And he has cried goodbye to his drunken father who still believes he has the flu.
Today he is here for our monthly visit, waiting to start 3TC. I watch him strain like a weight lifter
(continue)
to press his body from the chair. He stands, catches the door frame, brushes against the wall of diplomas, clutches my desk top, pauses for breath, and finally, smiling, makes a free fall plunge into his usual seat.
2.William
Six two, maybe 220, hints of scarlet on his handsome cheek, and a voice that slams through my office door, cursing AZT and doctors who don't return calls. "When the time comes, no heroics, okay?"
Prozac, Ambien, Xanax give no relief. He scans the Internet for new treatments: 3TC, Cytolin, Kombacha mushroom tea. We agree about morphine at the end. He asks me what to do, this man who will do anything. "Paint as often as before, when your studio was a party, your brushes loaded with paint."
He returns home and stares out the farmhouse window, spent as the weakened storm in the north Atlantic, kicking up waves, drifting off our local weather map.

© CME LLC
11/97

Read more of Dr. Berlin's work.