She wept, and told me you were dead.
Dead, and your corpse cremated
for fear your disease might contaminate us all.
I wept with her; but shamefully, not for you.
Fear of death – my death – swept through me
like fire in dry grass.  I barely thought of you at all.
I wept while waiting in the STD clinic
certain of what the test results would be.

The doctor beckoned me into his chambers
and stood well clear as I passed him.
He did not accept my proffered handshake;
he pointed to a chair; said curtly: “sit down”.

He took his time; he looked at me and curled a disdainful lip.
He spoke of how “this new disease is sweeping through your kind”.
I think he quite liked that word, “sweeping”:
a new broom, ridding the world of filth.

He spoke of “the unnatural sexual practises your kind pursue”
although no description of them passed his primly purséd lips.
He discoursed at length of rampant promiscuity and its inevitable sequelae:





With each moment his moral surety surged stronger.
Oddly, that surety now dragged his speech into the gutter:
“Your kind can’t fuck every arse in sight and not expect repercussions”.
The phrase seemed to satisfy him. He repeated it.

I was still sitting in the chair.
I was not weeping.
I was simply listening to him spewing execration.

“Look”, I said, “You don’t know me;

you didn’t know Peter;

you don’t know what

we did or didn’t do in bed.

And it clearly does not matter to you,

and frankly it’s none of your fucking business,

but what mattered most between us wasn’t sex:

it was love.

So cease your sanctimonious ramblings
and give me the test results.”

He studied the report, and then, pointedly, read it again.
He put the report back in its file and slammed it on his desk.
He paused, possibly briefly; decades, centuries passed for me.
Then, his disappointment palpable, said: “you’re HIV-negative.”

I don’t remember leaving the clinic.
I do remember weeping;
But this time, at last, I wept for Peter.


I’m going to explain this poem a bit.  Peter was my first partner, and still the only man I can say I loved unreservedly.  I miss him every day of my life.
At the time of his death we were not together -we were separated by work commitments.  I did not know he was ill; I think he tried to tell me but couldn’t bring himself to do it.  The first I knew of his death was when a mutual friend phoned me in hysterics to say that she had just been to his funeral and that Peter had died of AIDS.
I still have no idea why I remained HIV-negative.  Safe sex was only just starting to be talked about, and Peter and I not only had never practised safe sex, our sex was just about as risky as is possible to imagine.
This was 1987.  AIDS hysteria was hitting a peak.  Peter was cremated, against the wishes and beliefs of his family – it was actually government policy at the time that AIDS victims could not be buried, a sign of just how pervasive the hysteria about AIDS was at the time.
All of us in the Gay community were living in fear – not just of the illness but of the tremendous outpouring of loathing and hatred, from the usual suspects (of course)  but  also from the general community and indeed much of the medical establishment.  Perhaps the only upside was that actual “poofter bashing” (practically a national sport in Australia at the time) decreased markedly, since the bashers were suddenly aware that they might catch AIDS  from their victims.
Government attempts at “public education” served only to heighten the hysteria.  Watch this Australian advert from the period if you don’t believe me.