When you came to a dinner party at
Ira’s and my loft, you brought
a fruit tart. A glazed kaleidoscope
of peach, kiwi, and strawberry slices.
It was an auspicious occasion:
dinner with James Schuyler.
You’d always been a fan of his work.
Jimmy, on the other hand, had never
been impressed by yours. (“I do not share
your enthusiasm for Dlugos,” he wrote
in a letter in 1985.) But he had
read and been wowed by “G-9,”
your long poem about having AIDS,
just out in The Paris Review,
and now wanted to meet you.
August 9, 1990. (I’m glad I saved
my datebooks.) Jimmy eventually
made it up two flights—quite a feat
considering his heft and bad leg.
Inside the loft, he almost slipped on
one of Ira’s throw rugs. The rest
of the evening I worried that he might
fall and hurt himself. I sat with
you and Christopher (your last lover)
and Jimmy, smoking and listening
(small talk—nothing memorable),
a rather sullen host, while Ira
threw together a salad and his
specialty pasta dish in the kitchen.
Worried, too, about your gaunt
appearance, the little round Band-Aid
covering a KS lesion on your cheek.
Thinking back on it, I see how
deeply into myself I had retreated.
People were dying and no one seemed
to be talking about what mattered.
In less than four months, you would
be gone. Jimmy would join you
in the afterlife the following April.
Ever courteous, you sent a card
thanking us for “a lovely evening
of great food, conversation, and
friendship. It was wonderful to be
able to spend time with Jimmy
(is it okay to call him by his first name,
gulp?), who seemed very happy, too.”
I’ll trust, at this late date, that this
is true. I saved everything you ever
sent me, Tim, every letter, poem, post
and Christmas card, thank you note.
This one had gooseberries on it—
twelve of George Brookshaw’s veined,
alien-looking green and red orbs—
rendered with impeccable detail.
All these years, I’ve held onto the copy
of Tanaquil—the novel by Donald
Windham—you gave me. When
you came across a stack of them
at the Strand, it pained you to see
your friend’s book—you loved
both, your friend and his book—
on the remainder pile, so you bought
them all and presented them to friends.
I confess I still haven’t read it.
Will I ever? The glue in the spine
is dried out. Two decades after
your death, when I was editing
your collected poems, I got in touch
with your brother John. A building
supervisor for the phone company
in Washington, D.C. Parents and only
sibling (you’d both been adopted)
long dead, single since his divorce
in the seventies. “I’m a nice guy,”
he admitted, “but I’m miserable.”
He also admitted he was pissed off
when you got AIDS. (He was
with you on G-9 when you died.)
The implication: you should have
been more careful, restrained yourself.
He had all of your childhood ephemera:
photographs of you (a skinny
kid with glasses) and the family,
report cards (you were a straight-A
student), a program for a piano
recital (on June 14, 1962, you played
“The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”),
two religious medals, your Roy Rogers
and Dale Evans lunchbox (with
“Francis Dlugos” written in pencil
and “Remember: thou shalt not steal”)
filled with commemorative stamps
and political buttons: Nixon, Goldwater,
LBJ, JFK. If I came to visit him,
John told me, he would let me take
whatever I wanted. I intended to,
but waited too long. The next time
I tried to contact him, his number had
been disconnected. After some
detective work, I discovered that
John A. Dlugos (nicknamed “Doogee”)
had died unexpectedly in his sleep.
“He was preceded in death by
his parents and brother Timothy,
a published poet.” Survived by
“adoring friends too numerous to
count.” I’ll trust that this is true.
No will. A cousin was contacted by
the attorney, but wanted nothing.
All of the possessions—including
your mother’s cedar chest and a quilt
she made, which John had retrieved
from your apartment in New Haven
upon your death—disposed of,
given away. Tim, I mourned your
lost memorabilia. Kicked myself
for not jumping on John’s offer.
But where else can what’s been lost
live, save in the poem. Nine
months before you were lifted into
the afterlife, you organized a reading
for us at Yale Divinity School. On
the flyer, next to “New York poets!”
and our names, you put a picture
of the Everly Brothers in a somewhat
fey (how appropriate) pose, singing
their hearts out. Only three people
showed up. But we sang our
hearts out anyway. We had agreed
to introduce each other. I wasn’t
happy with what I wrote—dashed
off on your electric typewriter shortly
before. In the Institute of Sacred
Music’s nearly empty Great Hall, you
praised my work for “its unflinching
willingness to share disquieting
emotions like shame and regret,
as well as the real-life situations
that provoked them.” And: “David’s
poetry pays careful attention to
the things of ordinary life—the concrete
details which might be overlooked
by poets who foreground their
strong feelings at the expense of
the evanescent or ephemeral.”
And: “I admire his work more
than he knows.” Moved, I asked
you, afterwards, for a copy. You
handed me the one you’d read.
Which I asked you to autograph.
Almost posthumous, you wrote:
“This proves I really did write
the foregoing!” I, heartsick to be
losing you, needed proof. I would
have been too desolate without it.
The Breakup Poem
It is stunning, it is a moment like no other,
when one’s lover comes in and says I do not love you anymore.
Ira chose to drop the bomb
in the middle of a session
with Judy, our couples therapist:
I don’t want to be in a relationship with you anymore.
“Really? You mean that?”
Yes. I’m done with it. I want out.
It came as a complete surprise. I thought
things had been getting better:
my collecting seemed to have run its course
and I was willing to start contributing
toward a country house,
which Ira insisted
he wanted, though I was the one
who would have to do all the driving.
Judy thought things had been getting better, too.
(I had to prod her to admit it.)
Ira and I had dinner plans
after our session, which we cut short,
with lesbian friends.
You mean you’re not coming?
He said this incredulously.
“You’re kidding, right?”
I left Judy’s office in a daze
and took a cab back to our loft
and sat on the couch. Byron,
uncharacteristically, did not come out
from under the bed to greet me. I thought—
hoped, rather—that Ira would change his mind
and I’d hear the front door slam
and him bound up the stairs.
But no, he went out to dinner
with the lesbians. I sat there
as the room grew dim. In the stillness of dusk.
I thought, “This must be what it’s like
to be told you’re going to die:
you have to leave this life.”
Goodbye Keith Haring refrigerator magnets:
orange radiant baby, blue angel,
green barking dog.
Goodbye three Nan Goldin photographs,
one of a young, sad-eyed Japanese man
and his collection of vintage Barbie dolls.
Goodbye cabinetful of flower-splashed Vera napkins
and tablecloths, picked up at antique malls
and flea markets.
Goodbye pair of Tiffany glass candlesticks.
Goodbye Eames coat rack with multi-colored balls.
Goodbye small Tom Slaughter painting—
a New York cityscape in primary colors—
that I convinced Ira to bid on
at a charity auction. He only
paid $250.00. No way
was he going to let me have it
in the “divorce settlement.”
Goodbye big red tulips flopping
all over the white oval Saarinen coffee table,
flat waxy petals open wide.
I thought, in that moment, of an incident
that had occurred a few months earlier.
Driving to Woodstock.
The three of us in a rental car:
me nerve-wracked at the wheel;
Ira harping at me from the passenger seat;
Byron, frightened by our arguing,
cowering in the back.
I was relating yet another
disappointment in the poetry world
when Ira snapped, “Get over it, will you!”
He always fought against what I was feeling.
An inconvenience he felt obliged
but unable to fix. And impatience:
he never understood why I
couldn’t grow a thicker skin.
How many times had I said to him,
in our sessions with Judy, “Just let me
have my feelings. They will pass.”
I hate you, I spat.
We drove in silence
the rest of the way,
both stung by my declaration.
Byron, wagging his tail again,
excitedly took in the scenery.
Sitting in the dark apartment
saying goodbye to the things we had accumulated,
to the space we had shared for ten years,
I wondered if what I’d uttered was true.
When I told Helen, my “medical intuitive”
(L.A.-speak for “psychic”), about the breakup,
she said, “You should get down on your knees
and thank the powers that be
that he ended it. You would have
stayed with him out of loyalty.
Now you’re free to develop
other aspects of yourself.”
How could I have faith in the new unseen life
she said I was going to create.
Wayne Koestenbaum said, “Think
of the great breakup poems you’ll get to write.”
But I didn’t wish to write such poems.
I respected Ira, had learned a lot from him
despite our differences—
or perhaps because of them.
I wouldn’t want to write
anything that might hurt him.
Ira would continue to see
For a while I was bitter
that they still had each other
after the failure of our joint therapy.
DAVID TRINIDAD’s most recent books are Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems (2011) and Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera (2013), both published by Turtle Point Press. He is also the editor of A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos (Nightboat Books, 2011). Trinidad currently lives in Chicago, where he teaches at Columbia College. These two poems are from his new book, Notes on a Past Life, forthcoming from BlazeVOX [books].
Photo by Alyssa Lynee