Category: Injustice


Weeping

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:

disease;

death;

decay;

damnation.

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.

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For Evil to Triumph

 

In Tom Price I wasn’t the town drunk;

I was one of dozens fighting for that title.

Not all in the same division:

call me a contender in the welterweights.

And sometimes after a hard bout in the Animal Bar,

When the VB cans had been getting through my defences,

I’d throw in the towel and wander home

beneath the velvet desert sky and stars like shards of ice.

And the park bench by the big aviary, or maybe

the old gum tree by the library, would look at me

and say “Alec, mate, you just got hammered.

What you need is a bit of a sit down and a rest.”

And I’d take the advice and sit down for a while

to let the world stop spinning.  And next thing I knew

(if it wasn’t the dawn corellas going apeshit in the trees)

there’d be a flashlight in my eyes.

“Jesus, Alec, you again.  Come on, on your feet, son.

Let’s get you home.  SCU 23 isn’t it?”

And they’d prop me up and get me to the police Landcruiser

and drive me the 400 metres to the single men’s quarters.

“Don’t you spew in here Alec, you spew in here

And so help me you’ll clean it up with your tongue!”

And I’d fumble the key into my door; they’d say “See ya mate.”

And that’d be it.  Good blokes, on the whole.

                        *          *          *

You didn’t often see Aborigines in Tom Price;

something about it being Sickness Country, so people said.

But anyway, a family drove in, in an elderly Holden;

red dust holding the red rust together.

And people didn’t quite stare; more flicked their eyes

and then away – you’d hardly notice if you weren’t looking for it.

The big lady in the faded floral dress noticed alright.  She stood up proud,

gathered the kids, and marched them into the Farmers store.

Got the trolley, put the fat grinning bub in the seat,

wiped his nose, and set off shopping.  But the old bloke (check shirt, stubbies,

RM Williams boots gone out at the sides, thin as a rake and twice as hard)

he headed for the pub to wash 300 Kay’s of bulldust from his throat.

And a couple of hours later I saw him under the big gum tree by the library.

Akubra over his face, a can of VB beside him.  Snoring quietly.

“Hello brother, you and me both, eh?” I thought, as I raked up leaves around him,

and I figured his missus would come and get him, and give him hell for drinking the cheque.

                        *          *          *

The Police ute pulled up and they got out.

The good blokes who helped me home.

No words spoken; a quiet nod.  Picked the old feller up

and threw him in the back of the ute, like a cockie with a dead sheep.

I heard him slam against the steel.

I heard his boots rattle against the weld-mesh cage.

I heard him groan, and call out something I couldn’t catch.

And I did nothing.

I watched the ute head north.

Not south to the lockup.

North to the road out of town.

And I did nothing.

I’ve never found out what they did with him.

You don’t go asking awkward questions of small-town country coppers.

Do you?  I didn’t.

I said nothing.

Oh God, I hope they only dropped him 20 Kays from town, “to teach him a lesson”.

They would have left him, wouldn’t they?  Oh God, I hope they left him.

I hope at least they left him in one piece.

Because I did nothing.

I never saw the rusty Holden leave town – it was shift-end,

and time for the Animal Bar, and another 15 round stoush with the VB.

And a bloke said “Did you see the coppers sort that boong out?”

And I said nothing.

Sometimes I wonder if I could have done anything; anything, just something.

But I did nothing, and when next the coppers helped me home I was suitably grateful.

And one of them said “You know, Alec, you’ve been giving the grog a bit of a nudge lately,

Don’t you think you should do something?” And I just grinned and I said nothing.

Nothing at all.