Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

Ocean Vuong

I want to go back
to when my hands were innocent
of the body’s failure. To the night
I dipped these arms into warm water
and bathed you like any friend should.
Your sunken chest I lathered
until ivory streams filled the deep canals
of your ribs. Like cream, they traced
along your stomach, marbling
in that flush of hair once soaked
with my whispers. Like an old man
who labors, at last, for the joy of it,
I cradled your calf with slick palms
amazed at each muscle’s dimpled curve.
But where fingers sought the ligaments
that bounded such beauty, there was no resistance,
no tendon, no bone. Borderless, you became
a flesh of steam, of memory refusing itself.
So I reached deeper, as if
that bit of light inside could be felt, held,
and salvaged. With all my hands, I plunged
into you, calling your name as we merged,
frictionless, into one ghost.
Dusk darkened the room, save for the fireflies
lacing their pearls across the window.
The room empty, save for the sound
of water overflowing, the heart's
silent echo. And then, as if the wind
could not keep its secret: two boys
laughing in the distance—the night
and all her unlit stars
drowning in their eyes.