Poem In the Voice of the Author’s Herpes Simplex Infection
Here is my gift, how candy-pink and tender
the blister glows at first
ache and itch gnawing to be touched.
Then, bursting to a clear fluid shimmer, a red edge,
and the pain begins outright—
jewel for you to keep secret,
thin crust of golden-brown scab coming over like a cloud.
This is my story, and I keep telling it,
as though you’re going to learn something.
Remember when I first showed up, how you suspected
I’d been in your body forever. Was always
something wrong with you,
was just the fucking woke me up.
Pulled the wrong part of your blood to the surface
like cream to the top of milk.
Your badness seeping out of your body’s worst place.
You weren’t using that, were you?
Not like you ever liked it.
Hated that part of yourself from its innocuous seashell infancy.
Now, it just keeps getting worse.
Anatomical drawings you turn quickly away from.
Flowers pressed between the pages of books, failing to desiccate,
growing mold into the page.
I look just like I did in pictures.
If there were a doubt
that your body was a place
that had gone wrong
that there was something
wrong with want
here is my gift. Assurance.
That your body is a woman
and so prone to sabotage.
I heaved myself through your skin, a shadow spider,
crawling around, nibbling when I’m nervous,
pulling your clothes apart
to let the subway dirt and tarnish in.
For all that anger at yourself you say you have,
you never hurt you as much as I do.
Who do you think you’re fooling with your survival.
The first person you knew to have a venereal disease had me.
A punk rock girl in your small stinking town,
and you joined the chorus of backroom laughter.
You didn’t realize, then, that part of my name is forever.
That part of my contract is that you will, for the rest of your life,
lack certainty, no matter how long you may spend
away from illness, you have property there.
And the cost.
The handful of reasonable and unsullied people
who cannot swallow the waters of perhaps,
for all your ethics and fine intentions.
Here’s my gift, that you can imagine
they might have loved you otherwise,
Your lock-box underpants.
Your body’s dumb wet facts.
The rorschach-spreading wings of loneliness
flapping against the inside of your abdomen
as you rack and tally the days when I am the least of your shames.
Here is my gift.
There are people who tell,
and there are people who hide.
I will show you
in some moment before the first kiss
which kind of person you are.