Virginia Woolf wrote of writers needing a room of their own. Each writer furnishes that room with his or her talents, tastes and styles. Some rooms are minimal, while others feature fancy chandeliers. Having to choose a handful of winners from all the rooms we entered for the Rage and Remembrance Literary Contest, cosponsored by POZ and Artery (www.artistswithaids.org/artery), was difficult. But I think we judges chose some pretty good pads, each with its own vista on the epidemic.
We were most impressed by how HIV was dealt with in the submissions: Some tackled AIDS with humor, while others were reflective or even surreal. If there was one recurring theme it was, “This epidemic will be beaten.” Hope and a strong sense of being alive were very much a part of each piece. Manuscript after manuscript told its tale without panic or dread, but rather with grace and fluidity. The writers always found time to appreciate the small things in life that healthy people take for granted, like drinking tap water or taking a swim. The rooms were all clean, well-lighted places, each one offering its own insight into AIDS.
It is our pleasure to present these well-furnished pieces. We encourage the writers to carry on with their talents, and we are confident you will enjoy the freshness of their ideas. Step inside. All are welcome. –Ernesto Quinonez
Fiction Judges Emily Carter is the author of Glory Goes and Gets Some, a collection of stories, some of which originally appeared in The New Yorker and POZ. She also writes the Girl Talk column. Michael Denneny is a longtime champion of gay writing and senior editor at St. Martin’s Press. His books include Lovers: The Story of Two Men and Decent Passions. Ernesto Quinonez is the author of two novels, Bodega Dreams and the forthcoming Chango’s Needle, excerpted in POZ last year.
Poetry Judges Rafael Campo is the author of Diva and two other poetry collections, as well as a memoir, The Desire to Heal: A Doctor’s Education in Empathy, Identity and Poetry. Michael Lassell is a Lambda Literary Award-winning poet and the author of A Flame for the Touch That Matters. Eileen Myles is a poet and the author of a new novel, Cool for You. She is a former director of the St. Marks Poetry Project.
Photography John Dugdale, a POZ contributing photographer, recently released Life’s Evening Hour. New works will be exhibited at New York City’s Wessel + O’Connor Gallery in November.
The Gift Reginald Harris :: first-place fiction
“Well, I guess I better go,” I said, shifting in my seat. “Gotta stop by to see my moms, then figure out what I’m gonna do tonight.”
“You goin’ out?”
“Doesn’t seem like much point, really. Nothing but the same tired places to go to around here, with the same tired people in ‘em.” I shrugged and sighed, staring out the window at the clear late afternoon sky. “Maybe I’ll drive down to DC.” “And here I am thinking I’m missin’ somethin’.” Andre scratched at the bandage holding the IV into his arm.
“Baby, you ain’t missin’ shit.”
“Mr. Webster? Time for your meds.” A nurse entered the room, carrying a pair of tiny white paper cups on a faded orange tray.
Dre smiled at me. “At least they gave me someone nice to look at while I’m up in here this time.”
“I hope he’s not giving you-all too much trouble,” I said to the nurse. Dre was right: He was kinda cute. In his 20s, I guessed, and the color of a latte grande, the nurse was tall enough that he’d had to bend slightly to come in the door. But he was a little too swishy for me, too clockable. I’d been on a straight-looking, straight-acting, brothas-on-the-DL-only tip here of late. This guy could have been a drag queen somewhere when he wasn’t at the hospital, I thought, inhaling his strong cologne as he passed me.
“Oh no, he’s no trouble at all,” the nurse was saying. “When he starts acting up, we know to just pay it no mind.”
“That’s how we have always handled him.” I laughed. “My name’s Eric, by the way, since this one’s got no manners.”
“Albert.” The nurse smiled sheepishly, then glanced away.
Who knows? I thought. It might be fun. I shook my head and got up to look out the window.
“I’m not being disrespectful, it’s just that I want to keep him to myself,” Dre said. Albert helped shift him up in the bed to swallow his meds. “I know how you Watsons are, remember? You see somebody good-looking, and the next thing you know, you-all are banged up together someplace. Then he turned on Albert. “And don’t make me read you about that ‘Mr. Webster’ shit either. I done told you I ain’t writing no dictionary up in here. I may look like an old man, but I’m not,” he muttered.
Albert and I glanced at each other and rolled our eyes. “You just can’t treat nobody right, can you?” I asked Dre. “Always gotta be giving grief.”
“What grief? Mr. Webster’s my father, God help him, not me and never has been. And before too much longer I never will be, either.”
“Don’t talk like that, baby.”
“Oh, please.” Dre waved a thin hand. “Spare us both. We all know what’s happening here. I’m dying, right? You know it, I know it, and he knows it. Why pretend things are any different? And since I am going, I should be treated the way I want to be treated. After all, you don’t want my black ass haunting you, do you?” “You’re right about that. As a ghost, you’d be a real motherfucker.”
Before Albert had even left the room, Dre asked, “Isn’t he cute?”
“Yeah, yeah.” I tried to sound noncommittal as I looked over. He’d leaned back onto the pillow and closed his eyes. His face was gaunt, splattered with dark splotches from a malignant paintbrush. His short brown hair was thin and graying, his skull almost visible beneath his skin.
He opened his eyes slowly, like a lizard awakening from a sunbath, until they practically filled his face, as if to catch their last remaining sights before they went dark.
“How you doin’, baby?” I asked.
“I hate this shit. And I must look a fright.”
“Nah, you’re still beautiful.” I walked over to the bed and held his hand. “Liar. But I don’t mind.”
“You look like you need some rest, and I really gotta go.” I hesitated. Part of why I’d come today was to face this, to say this one thing, and now I wasn’t sure if I should. I looked into Dre’s enormous eyes. He really was still beautiful. “You know, I always had the hots for you.” Dre looked at me sideways.
“I’m serious. How you looked, the way you used to dance all night in the clubs. I remember the second or third time I saw you, years ago. You were wearing a tight-ass pair of black jeans and a dark shirt, purple or some such color. We ran into each other in the street— over on Rideout. I thought, Damn. But I couldn’t say anything since you were living with Sherman and all.” I looked down at the floor. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”
Dre slapped my hand. “Now you up and tell me this? If I’da known something five or six years ago, I woulda been all over you!”
“Oh, don’t tell me that. Now I’ll be kicking myself for not coming on to you!” I laughed. “God, what am I saying— you were my cousin’s boyfriend, for Christ’s sake. He and my family woulda kicked my ass if we’d messed around.”
“Neither Sherman nor your famly didn’t have to know, baby, you know that. And your family wouldn’ta cared. They’da thought it was just ‘faggots being faggots,’ that’s all.”
“Maybe that’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to do anything. I mean, not all of us are out fucking everything that moves every night.” I regretted what I’d said a second after it slipped out, but if Dre thought it was meant as some kind of judgment on him, he didn’t act like it. “Besides, I needed one or two friends I hadn’t slept with, you know?”
“At least I’ll be seeing him again soon,” Dre whispered. “That’s a comfort. And to not have to deal with his damned family—present company excepted, of course.” “You know we all hated what they did to you when Sherman died, freezing you out at the funeral.”
“At least your mother didn’t act like the rest of them,” he said. “And it helped that you and Mike sat our there with me in the lobby. I’m surprised the two of you broke up. Now there’s a fine-looking man.”
“He’s a good guy, but I guess I didn’t know how to handle a relationship.” Dre sighed. “You gots to hang on to love tight when it hits you. You’re not going to find someone who really loves you very often. Fuck the dumb shit.” He leaned his head back onto the pillow again and yawned. “Shit, all this love and sex talk—as long as it’s been since I’ve had somebody, I don’t think I’d remember what to do.”
“It’s just like riding a bicycle, baby. You never forget.”
Dre slipped me a look. “Maybe you should lock that door and remind me.” I laughed. “Child, you as crazy as ever. Let me get outta here. Now, your chocolate chip cookies are over here on the nightstand. But save room for dinner.”
“Yeah, I know. But try to eat anyway. I…I wish there was something I could do for you.”
“I told you what you could do—me! You think I’m kidding? I’m serious. OK, fine, then. Get the fuck out.” We laughed. “Take care, baby.”
“Take care.” I leaned down and kissed Dre on the forehead. A sudden jolt went through me as my lips touched his skin. “I’ll see you later, boo. I gotta go shopping…”
“Pick up something for me.” “It’ll all be for you.”
“Hmm, I like that,” Dre murmured, laying back into the pillow. “And if you do decide to fuck that boy Albert, let me know. I want a stroke-by-stroke description.
Albert snuck me back into the hospital at 11 p.m. The corridors were silent but for the low hum of machines. “I can give you maybe an hour,” Albert whispered. “But no more.” I went quickly to Dre’s room, trying not to make too much noise with my bags. I took a deep breath and pushed my way into the room.
I set up my CD player next to Dre’s bed, sliding in a compilation of Brazilian music. I arranged the items from the other bag—rubber gloves, oil, cologne and a small container of cut-up papaya. I lit vanilla-scented candles, placing them around the room, and gently shook Dre awake.
“What’s going on?”
“Shh.” I turned on the light over his bed. “I’m here with your present.”
I sprinkled a few drops of Aramis on Dre’s pillow. It had been Sherman’s favorite cologne. Dre smiled and wiggled his head into the pillow.
I opened the container. I find papaya incredibly sexy— its firm but pliant texture, its exotic, delicious, not-too-sweet taste. I helped Dre up and sat next to him, slowly feeding him slices. I’d cut the fruit up into tiny pieces, but left one a fairly good size, about three inches long. When Dre seemed close to having had his fill, I picked up the final piece. Slowly tracing around his mouth, I eased the papaya between his lips, gently sliding it in and out of his mouth. Dre looked at me in consternation. “You mean it’s been so long you’ve forgotten how to do this?” I asked. After a moment’s confusion, Dre’s brow relaxed. He began to suck on the papaya in mock lasciviousness, licking around it, running his tongue up and down the slice, quickly tickling my fingers. He then took the whole thing in his mouth, moaning. “Somehow I thought you’d be bigger, darling,” he said, batting his eyes. Chuckling, I got up and slowly unbuttoned my shirt, swaying to the samba, playfully covering and revealing my bare chest.
A slow smile played across Dre’s face. “My own private dancer! You Watson men…” He shook his head, then ran his hand across my bare torso, pausing to give my slight pre-middle-age bulge a gentle squeeze. “You need to go to the gym, honey,” he whispered.
I slapped at his hand. “Bitch! Only you would dis a motherfucking gift!” I slowly undid my jeans, casually letting them slip down.
Dre’s eyes widened. “Didn’t your mama ever tell you to always wear underwear?” He reached out for me. “I really woulda tried to have you if I’d know all-a this was here.”
“No!” Dre grabbed the sheet tightly. “Please.”
“Baby, it’s OK.” I kissed him lightly on the forehead. “You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
I eased the sheet from his hand and slowly pulled it back. The flimsy hospital gown could not cover the fact that Dre’s once-beautiful body seemed drained of fluids. He reminded me of photographs of African famine victims. His body appeared almost lost in the hospital bed, a dry black seed in the middle of the sheets’ white husk. “You still got it goin’ on, baby,” I said, my voice choked. “Best-looking man in town.”
Dre began to cry.
“Hush. If you start to bawl, I’m never going to make it.” I turned the music up. I put a pair of thin, royal purple loves. I’d never seen surgical gloves in any color other than faded beige, but Albert had come through. “He needs a little color, don’t you think?” he’d said, when I’d told him about my plan. I picked up the small bottle of oil and started with his feet.
I felt very strange. All these years I’d dreamed of seeing Andre naked, longed to put my hands on his smooth, bare body. And here we were. And were not. Dre both was and wasn’t here. Or rather his wit, his beauty, the person I had wanted were still here, trapped inside a fading body, like a light coming from deep inside a shell.
Moving the thin gown aside, I worked without a sound, except for the music and Dre’s slow breathing. His skin inhaled the oils, drinking deeply. I moved in a subtle rhythm against the bossa novas and boleros, gently working my way up from his hammer-toed dancer’s feet, cupping his rough heels in my palms, slowly massaging his once strong calves and thighs. I tickled his belly-button, caressed his stomach, sunken chest, and large, dark nipples, then moved across his shoulders and down his withered arms, carefully avoiding his IV. I rubbed his throat and neck, and lightly played my fingers across his cheeks and eyebrows. Running a quick hand through his thin hair and kissing his forehead, I whispered, “Still beautiful, baby, still hot.” Again Dre began to cry.
I re-oiled my hands and moved to Dre’s crotch. He opened his legs. Carefully I slid a finger between his ass cheeks, worrying the entrance to his hole. Dre moaned. I wrapped my other hand around his dick, and gently stroked him. Dre sighed, reached his hand out for me. I moved closer to the bed, lowering my pants, and placed my warm cock in his hand. His touch brought me to life.
Gently fingering him, I again thought of how much I’d wanted to do this years before. And I thought back to another dancer I’d had an affair with— how his strong legs would wrap around me in bed like a vise. He, too, had a smooth, sleek body, and I closed my eyes, remembering. Dre closed his eyes as well. Sniffing at the cologne on his pillow, he began murmuring Sherman’s name. Dre remained flaccid, but my dick grew to its full length and hardness in Dre’s hand and the memory of sweet afternoons spent with other men. We slowly stroked each other like ancient lovers, lost in our separate visions of the past.
Two days later, the phone rang at exactly 3:13 a.m., startling me from sleep. One look at the time told me all I needed to know. When the ringing stopped, I pulled the sheet closer to me and began to gently rock as if to a quiet rhythm. My eyes filled with tears, my nose with the scent of vanilla candles.
For Paul Monette First place :: poetry Philip Huang
From the bed, you can’t see out the window. But believe me, summer’s here again,
her wide skirt skimming earth as all around what we’ve planted is coming into color, that most contentious speech.
So what. So what. Your face is turned to me anyway, the consolation prize.
In a few days you’ll be blind. Then me memorializing this garden Is a luxury.
Water Thomas R. Halliday :: second-place fiction
The day before disfiguring surgery ruined and saved my life, the bodysurfing was terrible. The surgery would last only 10 minutes. The lack of a good wave promised to be permanent.
A Southern California boy, I was never far from my most reliable playmate: the Pacific. My father’s love of water determined my own. My most vivid memory is Dad heeling a sloop at an impossible angle to squeeze every knot from a fair wind across the beam. Terror plastered his family to the boat’s high windward side. I was certain if I shifted my inconsequential weight an inch toward the lee, we would capsize into bottomless depths.
As we grew, my big brother, Rick, and I became a well-coordinated crew. Dad would shout, “Coming about!” and we sprang into action. Dad pushed the tiller to the new tack, then set the mainsail with a mariner’s eye. Rick released the jib, quickly cleating it to the opposite hull to avoid lufting or back-winding the main. My job was to squeeze my eyes tight and drop to the deck to avoid being cold-cocked by the swinging boom. Our duties carried titles: Dad was captain, brother first mate; I was cargo. Without responsibilities, I was free to savor the speed, the wind and the gulls laughing overhead.
In time, Rick took turns at the tiller and I learned to man the jib. Dad handed me the tiller only on a gentle run before the wind. I was content that my brother, rather than I, was destined to inherit the captain’s burden.
When I was 9, Dad purchased a second-hand paddle board: a true descendant of the Hawaiian surfboards of old, a big gun, four yards of varnished timber with the grace of a telephone pole. Rich and I strained to wrestle it to water, but once floated, the ocean was ours. From Balboa Island, I paddled across the bay, landing on Newport Peninsula feeling as if I had discovered a new continent. The best part was lazing in the middle of the harbor, where my presence forced yachts to change course. A 70-footer sailing from Hong Kong contended with typhoons, pirates, treacherous shoals and me. This was my first inkling that I could affect the greater world.
Next I took up bodysurfing. I became a seal, riding anything short of a storm. As an adult on a Hawaiian vacation, I alone rode daunting north-shore curls while my friends on land planned my funeral.
On September 17, 1995, I comforted my best friend or, more precisely, one half of my best friend. Born a few months apart, David and I attended college together, discovered our homosexuality around the same time and acquired a deficient immune system. Watching our T cells decline, we clung to each other’s good health as a sailor might hug the mast of a sinking ship in shark-infested waters. Over the previous year, however, half of David’s body had evaporated. In recent weeks, half his mind had departed as well. Now he lay in bed, listless and deflated as the limp sails of a becalmed schooner.
A physician before taking disability, he used a medical term that day: cachexia. I asked its meaning. David gathered himself in agony to define it indelibly in just three words. He rasped, “Thin, like us.” When David died four days later, his words reverberated. Thin, like us…like us.
Three weeks later, my own weight loss critical, my doctor explained he must implant a permanent feeding tube into a vein in my right arm. Afterward, should the entrance wound become damp and infected, disease would invade through the line working directly to my heart. I would have to wrap my arm in plastic from shoulder to fingertips just to take a shower. Swimming was out of the question. The doctor didn’t say, “Never again.” He said, “Not until you get better and we can remove the pic line.” But we both understood, this was not going to get me better. This was just going to feed me to prolong the dying process.
The day before the operation, I drove alone to Santa Monica Bay to say goodbye. The beach turned its back like a lover about to be jilted. A dense haze leadened the sky. Sea gulls hunkered against offshore gusts. None flew. A few jacketed beach bums littered the sand like summer discards.
I was the only one desperate enough to swim in October water. There were no surfable waves. Instead the ocean slapped with blows designed to hurl me back on land or to grind me against the bottom. I pushed beyond the breakers and sobbed pathetic drops of salt water into the ocean. When the hour grew late, I turned to leave. A 40-year romance was over. Without bothering to wipe the sand mudding my feet, I trudged to the parking, heckled by a blustering wind. I was leaving my freedom, condemned to a life sentence without possibility of parole.
Pic line installed: Water becomes terror. In place of the ocean, my new friends were plastic bags of gray predigested nutritional lipids. Were these discharged into the ocean, the slick oiling the surface would be deemed pollution. Twelve hours of every 24, a blinking, growling metal box pulsed the lipids into my body. Growl, click. Growl, click. For those 12 hours, my ability to drag the steel stand holding bag and box defined my world. I counted my remaining life not in years, not months, nor by any interval found on a calendar, but rather by the number of clicks left in the bag and the number of bags left in my refrigerator.
Months did pass, with no more significance than shadows ghosting across my sickroom walls as day shaded to night. Within me, virus coursed at full flood. My doctor tossed the lifesaver of protease inhibitors to me. One after another, drug combinations failed. We determined a bit of madness was needed. Outdoing what anyone else was attempting at the time, we piled drug upon drug, as if to build a stack so high I could stand upon it, head towering above the rising viral tide.
I downed a litany of pills— a medicinal mantra repeated three times a day. Macbeth’s witches could have concocted the formula over their boiling cauldron:
Firth inject beneath the skin Sandostatin, Serostim. Buttress blood with Epogen and its cousin Neupogen Tongue a tab of Toradol mingled with Myambutol. D4T and 3TC rouse my weak immunity. Nibble on some Naprosyn. Bite a bit of Biaxin. Pop the pain pill Percodan, antifungal Diflucan. Norvir and Saquinavir with AIDS’ protease interfere. Pentamidine! Nevirapine! Now save my sight with Cytovene.
Sometimes madness works.
A year and a half after the pic line surgery, April 26, 1997: I’ve begun using a calendar again. This is the day I return to water. My weight gain from months of lipids and new drug therapy has permitted the pic line’s removal.
Extreme low tide exposes the rocky shelf at the south end of Crescent Beach, so I explore. Millions of barnacles bristle the rock down to midtide. A mat of mussels blackens the rest. Each step I take, a hundred tiny lives support me.
I intend to ride the Wave, my first of the season. I pass German shepherd pups tugging a beach towel. Children play tag. Vitality is everywhere. My first step into the ocean’s cold bite confirms I am alive. Hip deep, I hop swells, playing the impossible game, arms skyward as if to climb an imaginary ladder out of the chill while I walk into it. Then the inevitable— a wave too big to jump, breaking too close to ride. The wave I must plunge into head first. Arms forward. Dive.
Baptized. Up for air. I am returned into an ocean I never believed would accept me again. I gaze straight out to sea and exclude the land from view. This moment is just for the Pacific and me. The water reflects a bridge of sunlight toward me. Always before, this glare has been an inescapable irritant. Today it validates.
A porpoise leaps from the water and arches back directly before me. I spin around to shore, certain everyone has seen this vision, but preoccupied with reading and games and dogs, nobody on the beach witnesses this lovely creature. He dances for me alone. I turn back to watch him leap again and again toward the bridge of light, then one last arc before disappearing in the sun.
I still down 40 pills a day and even the kitchen tap threatens possible infection. I don’t know if I’ll be able to regain the tiller. But I am back, back in the water.
Second place :: poetry Philip Huang “Sunday Morning”
But we’re the same person. When did that happen?
I lie next to you a little while, still fused in the morning’s dreams. In the next room, water boils. I pour two bowls of tea.
You sit in the window, one hand on the cat. You watch the sun in someone else’s yard. When I touch your shoulder, it’s the cat that moves.
9:30. Then 11:00. We make love again on the floor near the window.
Please. Please— Maybe this time the sight of my thin arms clinging to you will move the gods to amnesia— And my paper boy, this paper heart—
In the bathroom I cry and you hum the usual song to my cheek. I love you I love you. You kiss me into silence. Silliness, silliness— I look to you and you make the promise again: I’ll be here. We still have all summer left to see. I will be here. And death will wait—
like blood oranges still netted on the kitchen door.
Yard Ball Wendell Ricketts :: third-place fiction
Tony’s on the rec yard, shirtless and sweating in the dull light of a June afternoon. He’s short, about 5’6”, but tight, with good definition showing these days, especially on his upper body, which he works on whenever they get a chance to use the weights. Plus he’s down to what must be 8 percent body fat from flat-weeding 7 to 3 and not eating most of the pig slop they put on your tray at chow.
The weight shed is in the inside corner of the L-shaped rec yard, where the laws can’t see unless they get up off their fat gray-suited asses and walk over there, and so, a lot of the time, that’s where guys go to hit it. It ain’t cool to be trying to bench-press when some dudes are getting down four feet away from you, not that anybody’s all that shy. And if it isn’t a couple of moes got eyes only for each other, say it’s somebody turning out a new punk, he’s most of the time gonna offer you a chance to knock off a piece, too, ‘cuz that’s all part of it.
Tonight, though, it’s b-ball, and he knows he’s moving good. Tony throws both arms out to his side to block the guys closing in on his boy who’s carrying the ball. He’s concentrating on the game, awright awright, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel the thickness of biceps, round and solid, against his forearm, or hard pec muscles rubbing against his back, the rasp of chest hair.
The best part of getting worked out like this is afterward. He’s lucky; their block gets rec from 6 to 9, and now that the evenings are longer, there’s time for a couple of games, or maybe a game and hit the weights, and then just stand on the strip of grass alongside the double chain link with the razor wire curled on top like some kinda sick ribbon and look out while the sun is still up, let the breeze blow on you, dry you off. You don’t wanna put your hands up on the fence, ‘cuz that’s a good way to get shot, but you can lift your arms up like wings, with your fingers laced behind your head, let the wind blow into your armpits, like a warm tongue teasing up and down your sides, until it’s ticklish and your nipples pebble up.
Nobody else needs to know, when he’s standing there like that, why he’s doing it.
Getting ripped out on the weights was part of a plan to get respect— that and all the ink, most of which he bought on the inside. When Tony was in the world and needed some fast cash, looking like a teenage jarhead meant he only had to spend about 10 minutes at the bar, pretending to play pool, before he’d turn a date, and most nights he was home in his own bed before 1. He was back living with his dad then, near Houston. But when you are on the inside, being 21 years old and sweet-faced is like blood in the water, and a pretty white boy’s either got to catch a ride or get a rep, and he was gonna be dead before anybody did him like some punk in the weight shed.
The hard edge of a voice cuts in. “Yo, yo! Cherokee! I’m open!” That’s Vince talking; they call each other litter mates, have matching tats. Tony takes a hard step left, brings the ball to his chest as if to pass, then jams right and throws around the guy guarding him. The pass flies wild. “My bad,” Tony says as they jog down the cement slab toward the opposite hoop.
Part of being hard is having a nick, so most of the guys know Tony as Cherokee. His dad started calling him that back in the day, he said so Tony wouldn’t forget they shared that blood on his side, despite the pale skin that came from Tony’s mother. The name followed Tony inside, plus the rumor that he’d stabbed some guy to death with a hunting knife, then cut off his scalp. That last part wasn’t true, but it was good if some people believed it was true. He had a shank now, because you had to have one to show sometimes and also to keep up with the rumor, but the only way the laws didn’t find it was if he left it taped up behind the electrical plate. And how was that gonna help him if he ever did need it on the yard or in the showers, which is where they hit you? Anyway, he though his plan was turning out all right the day he overheard one of the eses say to his homies, “That vato there is firma, man, he’s down.” If the Hispanics respected you, you could stay pretty safe. They’d get you back against the bloods. Not that they wouldn’t cut your throat and spit down your neck if it came to a real race fight, but you knew where you stood then was with your color. There weren’t enough Injuns inside to click, so his color was white.
It was Saturday, which meant visits, and Tony’s mom had driven in from Normangie. When he walked into the visiting room, she was sitting there on a metal folding chair with a wide-ass pair of mafias across her face to cover up that she’d been crying, and the first words out of her mouth were how sorry she was she had to come tell Tony that his daddy finally died. No shock there. His dad had that shit for years, and moving back in with Tony’s mom so she could take care of him only slowed down what was coming. “He died in my arms,” she kept saying, stuffing a wad of Kleenex in behind the eyeglass frames and pushing at her eyes. That and “Antonio, I just don’t know how he could of got it.”
Someone threw Tony the ball, and he caught it and started running. Damn if he wasn’t open all the way to the hoop. He was thinking about the year and a half he’d lived at his dad’s place in Houston—up until just after he turned 17—shooting up, freakin’ with the bitches his dad brought home all share and share alike, and being so high and so horny, it didn’t matter which peg went in which hold, so to speak, which was true sometimes even when they were just the two of them, because his dad said there were things he needed that he couldn’t get from a woman but he wasn’t going to lower himself by going to no stranger. Better keep that in the family, ‘cuz we share the same blood, his dad told him. We got the same blood.
All respect to his mom for taking his dad in when he was sick, Tony thought, but she was a clueless bitch. As he ran, he worked the ball into a steady beat—the metallic slap on the concrete, then the softer rebound against his palm. She didn’t know how his dad got the shit. The words in Tony’s head matched the double rhythm of the ball. They came fast, like fucking: “I do. I do. I do.”
THIRD PLACE: POETRY Jose Gutierrez “Reality”
AIDS is flying like crazy in all directions mask of laughter and tears that spills its poison
the virus sails without a compass among people from every city and it multiplies from north to south
Martin to Jose; Jose to Leti and Salvador; Salvador to Dayanara Leti to Carmen and Perry; Perry to Edgardo and to Luigi; Luigi to Adolfo…
this is the never ending poem.
BIOGRAPHIES First place— Fiction Reginald M Harris Jr. Harris, who works at Baltimore’s Pratt Library, had a story published in Brown Sugar: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction. He also writes poetry.
First Place— Poetry Philip Huang Huang lives in Berkeley and works at an HIV clinic in Oakland’s Chinatown. He is finishing The Window Season, a collection of short stories.