Plague Years script

Image: front door opens, living room light, shadows carpet, record player: Billie Holiday: In My Solitude
The coronavirus offers me the unwanted gift of a new kind of solitude, and a new kind of fear.

Image: pan books
These last months haven’t delivered me to the loneliness I longed for and cherished in the past,
the familiar loneliness of the familiar virus
the one that made a home inside me all those years ago when I became HIV positive.

Image: Mike takes off mask
Now instead there is a new virus that I have to share with the whole world
It’s a virus that hasn’t learned to say no, to refuse a host, an opportunity
So it seems I will have to share my new fear, with everyone.

In the chatrooms, the comments section, the blogosphere, I ride an ocean of anger. I grew up with an angry parent, who taught me well the old lesson: that anger is the other side of fear. They are twins joined at the hip, one turning into another. Anger turning into fear. Fear turning into anger.

When I return, like any addict, back to my real home, on the internet, I wonder:
What are all these angry writers so afraid of?

Image: woman looks at pinball light machine
The year is 1988, I am having a coffee with a couple of friends, Shary and Len. Shary has just learned an important secret, and she leans forward to share it with us. In the warehouse district, there’s a machine that glows with a special light. If you look into it too long, you’ll get AIDS. Even though I’m positive, and even though they’re my best friends, I haven’t told them, because if I don’t tell them it’s not real, it hasn’t happened yet.

So when Shary tells us about the special light I nod grimly and shake my head. In the next few months  I hear about a tree that can give you AIDS, the door handle of every coffee shop on Church Street, not to mention fire hydrants, or foreign cars painted red.

Image: Stranger Things 3
Shary wasn’t telling me that the HIV virus could be found everywhere. She was telling me that the virus of fear couldn’t stop spreading.

Image: Stranger Things 3
One of my biggest fears is that I would appear to my friends like a monster, that I would lose them, and then I would lose myself. In 1951, Daniel Cory wrote, “Society has handed me a mask to wear…Everywhere I go, I pretend.”

Image: camera in mirror
I also wore a mask during the last pandemic. How did Audre Lord put it? My silences have not protected me.

Image: streets and man falls
On my street, always perched in the shadows, under a dripping roof, or behind a stand of broken fruit boxes, there’s a kind-faced, almost-homeless lady who always looks away when I walk by. She ignores me whenever I say hi. But this morning, in the abandoned courtyard, too cold for playtime, there were just the two of us. And when I said hi, she said hi, as if it was the most usual thing.

Image: family pics
Instead of thanking her I went home and cried. I had smiled but she couldn’t see that because we were both wearing masks. Maybe she was smiling too. Who has not depended on the kindness of strangers to get them through these plague years?

Image: The Letter
A letter from my best friend Tammy. I would have invited her here to tell you this story herself but she didn’t make it this far.

Image: Washing Hands
In 1982, the only thing that stopped me committing suicide was that I couldn’t bear the thought of someone clearing up my mess. I’d gone to the doctor with the kind of swollen glands that hurt when you shook hands with someone. Tests showed I had HTLV3, the original name for HIV. At the time there was all this news filtering in from America about a mystery illness – that it was terrifying and fatal. I wanted to kill myself to get it over with, but one long afternoon in the waiting room, I fell in love.

Image: Mardi Gras birthday
I’ve done a lot of grieving, lost a lot of friends and lovers. It makes you feel alone, especially when you’re with other people. One of the social workers said it was AIDS survivor syndrome.
The pills came and they brought me back to life.
But why did I get to stay, when the smart ones, the funny ones, the handsome ones, all died? Is that what you call: good luck?

Image: doctor, hands reach
Last week, during a telehealth appointment, I explained to a different blurry doctor that after three months I was still experiencing Covid symptoms: I had fever and difficulty breathing, my hands hurt, and for three weeks my legs and face have been numb. Some of my fantasies became new truths: that everything I saw was a picture that had been pasted in front of my eyes, and that my mother hadn’t died yet.

Image: dancing babies commercial

Image: Glitch world, watch collage
Weekends fell out of my memory like chunks of plaster. Some of this was the effect of lockdown, I knew; everyone I knew was having lucid dreams of forgotten classmates. When I was in second grade, did I actually date a pair of hot friends named Michael and Kevin? Everyone has suffered a falling-out with time. But my new clock seemed to come from the virus itself.

Image:  Mike phone, mom ruins
One day I realised I couldn’t remember my phone number, or my brother’s middle name.
For a few months, I forgot how to read.
I started watching TV and found the James Baldwin channel. Later, even when I read his books upside down, they always made too much sense.

Image: Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket
James Baldwin from The Price of the Ticket. “People are caught in a kind of vacuum between past and present, I mean the romantic version of the past, and the ugly present.

Image: Ku Klux Klan
The country needs the virus of “illegal aliens” to hold together a fragile identity. It always seems to be falling apart. It’s a crisis of identity. And this crisis brings a lot of pressure, so it’s necessary to invent the stranger, the virus, that is responsible for our pain. Once they are driven out, destroyed even, then we can return to what we used to be, and the questions will disappear. Of course, the questions never really leave us, but it has always seemed easier to murder than to change. It has always seemed easier to murder than to change.

Image:  Canada flag, Justin Trudeau at Pride – India Covid
The AIDS epidemic didn’t prepare me for Covid. I felt ambushed and out of control, even though I lived in a country that was buying up every vaccine available; what else was going to ensure re-election for our leaders? Votes would be paid for by the dead in India and Mexico and Palestine.

Image: Pope embraces, first intifada, Margaret Thatcher
The year is 1987. Pope John Paul II embraces an AIDS-infected boy while visiting San Francisco. The First Intifada begins in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Margaret Thatcher is the prime minister of the UK. In an interview with Woman’s Own magazine she assures her readers, “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look for themselves first.”

Image: Digital Market
Thatcher was just an echo chamber for her friends who ran the banks and of course Friedrich Hayek, the philosopher king of neoliberalism. There are only individuals and the market, and for Hayek, Thatcher and Reagan, and eventually newspapers all over the world, markets appeared like trees and sky, like a force of nature, like the natural world itself. The message they all sent was: just follow nature.

Image: Google HQ
For example in 2017 Google software engineer James Damore circulated a memo arguing that nature explains why so few women held engineering and leadership positions at the company. Because of the biological differences between men and women, Damore argued, Google’s attempts to recruit and promote women in those fields were “unfair, divisive and bad for business.” He was immediately fired for violating Google’s rules about “advancing gender stereotypes.” When he sued he became a celebrity on the Right – not just for what he wrote but the price he paid for it. His claim that he was shamed and then fired for his views made him an icon of freedom in “a culture built to suppress it.” Freedom. I hear this word at the weekly anti-masker gatherings at Queen’s Park. Even though they’re all white in a white culture, they see themselves as freedom fighters, battling a society that is trying to bring them down.

Image: Queen’s Park anti-lockdown protest

Image: Cities under Covid
This kind of freedom means that there are no social explanations for inequality. Because there’s no such thing as society, the prevalence of men in high tech and corporate boardrooms is rooted in nature and confirmed by the market. Only left wing censor board fascists would point out that every mayor of the city, every head of the university, every US president is a man. Or that Palestinians are not treated as people. The genius of no society means that alongside an economic shift that shovels money to the ruling class, there is a cultural shift that says: the way things are is nature.

Image: Virus animation
So when the pandemic began, it was hard for me not to feel it as the virus of neoliberalism. It reimagined society as a giant hospital, with medical masks, and a new language of bubbles and isolation. Vaccine hording and vaccine tourism began. And while government messaging was different in many countries, I never heard the prime minister say: we have a new way of looking after each other. A new way of taking care. That’s why you want to wear a mask, not to protect yourself, but to protect others. And for the too many who don’t have the luxury to stay home, there could be measures to ensure that their time in the red zone would be limited, and then someone else, perhaps even someone who wasn’t black or brown, would take their place. Everyone would take a turn.

Image: “Bust” by Richard Morrison
Well I know that if I die, I’m not going to die simply because I got fucked in the ass without a condom or that I swallowed some stranger’s cum. I know that I’m going to die because of the way this disease is handled by those in positions of power.

Image: White House
The year is 1982, the setting is the White House. Let’s join White House press secretary Larry Speakes and reporter Lester Kinsolving.

Image: Reagan Administration’s Chilling Response to the AIDS crisis
Reporter: Does the president have any reaction to the announcement by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta that AIDS is now an epidemic with over 600 cases?
Larry Speakes, The president’s press secretary: AIDS? I haven’t got anything on it.
Reporter: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” [All of the reporters laugh) No, seriously. One in every three people that gets this has died. And I wonder if the president was aware of this.
Larry Speakes, The president’s press secretary: I don’t have it. [More laughter from the press.] Do you?
Reporter: You don’t have it? Well, I’m relieved to hear that, Larry! [Everyone laughs.)

Image: David:  “When I got AIDS, I was also infected by a diseased society.”

Image: “Bust” by Richard Morrison
I always felt as a teenager that if this society could even for five minutes deal with mortality on a coast to coast level, in education, our institutions and our schools, most of us would never be doing the things that we’re doing. We wouldn’t care to support the social structure if we really understood something about mortality. And to leave the bed of a friend who can’t even put a spoon in his own mouth…

Image: AIDS photos
The first cases of AIDS were reported in the US in the summer of 1981. All of our friends died. But President Reagan refused to say the word AIDS for four more years. The mountain of fear and hatred against queers by the White House inspired the slogan “Silence = Death.”

Image: World AIDS Day 2020
Audre Lord said that it is not distance that immobilizes us, but silence.
And there are so many silences to be broken.

Image: AIDS stills
AIDS doesn’t exist because it’s not happening to me. What a luxury it must be to say that, I can hardly imagine.

Image: Candle light
The neoliberal claim that “there is no such thing as society” does more than reimagine social programs like pensions or health insurance as market interference that create lazy bums who want everything done for them. The nanny state. When Margaret Thatcher says that there’s no such thing as society, she means that taxes are robbery, rather than the way our public life, our schools and hospitals, are maintained. It means blaming the poor for poverty.

And what do you get in return for saying no to the nanny state? Freedom.

George Michael: Don’t let anyone take this away from you. Let me see your hands, hear your voices. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. You got to give for what you take. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. You got to give for what you take.

Images: Berlin Wall comes down
In 1990, George Michael released his song Freedom ’90. It was a moment when everyone hummed Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, celebrating what we were told was the final victory of democracy after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Maybe the low point of these singalongs was David Hasselhoff’s live rendition from on top of the Berlin Wall of Looking for Freedom.

Image: George Michael making of freeek, freeek
But George Michael did something very different. As his song describes it, freedom looked like the road to heaven, but felt like the road to hell.

Image: George Michael
So, what kind of freedom does George Michael’s song describe? It’s not the classic liberal freedom where you can say or believe what you choose. Instead, it’s a negative freedom, it points to what isn’t there anymore. The singer walks away from his past, none of his old songs matter anymore, his signature props are blown up one after another. Maybe that’s why his song feels more contemporary than all the hymns to liberty sung at the end of history. It describes the kind of freedom we can feel today: the freedom from everything.

Image: Roca-rituals
We’re used to feeling freedom as something positive: the freedom to hang out with your friends or have your own opinions. But the ground has shifted. The liberation movements of the sixties provided key lessons for the capital class, instead of women’s lib or black power, they dreamt about the liberation of money. Freedom meant that corporations should be liberated from every kind of regulation, so they could pursue their own interests at the expense of everyone else’s. Freedom today offers us: the freedom from having a good job, freedom from a good place to live, or an affordable education.

Image: Freelancer, stills dissolve Hanoi, Vietnam
These negative freedoms are shared around the globe. Though they are not shared equally, so much depends on the accident of birth, skin colour and neighbourhood, and how the ghost trails of old empires continue their work. Rancière calls it: “the part of those who have no part,” because for many, participation in the commons is not possible. It’s not just about owning a piece of a company, or having resources, but a sense of being equal, of belonging in the world.

In Vietnam, Khan works in a factory making medical gloves for hospitals. When he got Covid, he was quarantined in a large hall at his workplace. Everyone was given a bucket and a cup, and bedsheets to lay across the floor. There were no doctors and many died. When he was allowed to go home, so weak he could hardly walk, his partner Lan had found work collecting bottles and cans.

Image: nature sunrise
Pandemic is from the word pandemos, meaning all the people. A pandemic links all the people through the shared threat of infection and death, and the hopes of immunity or recovery. The pandemic reminds us that we are living in a global village.

Image: medieval siege, Sicily
In the 14th century, there was a terrible city war in Cafa, where invaders used a catapult to fling their own soldiers, riddled with black plague, into the city. Some Italians fled to Sicily, where they spread a plague that would empty cities across Asia and Europe. Ships docking in Sicily were forced to wait for 40 days – quaranta giorni – which is where the word quarantine comes from. More than 100 million people died. This is how the golden age of the peasant began. For more than 100 years, the poor ate better, could bargain with their employers, and enjoy new rights.

In order to put the poor back in their place, a new economic system was developed, attached to white supremacy and a hatred of women that cut the working class in half. Centuries later, it would be named capitalism.

In order to put the poor back in their place, a new economic system was developed, attached to white supremacy and a hatred of women that cut the working class in half. Centuries later, it would be named capitalism.

Image: bottled water commercials
How to reverse the process of “enclosure”? Capitalism began with enclosure – stealing common lands by fencing them off and enclosing them, just as it continues to steal public water today and sell it back to us, or create private prisons and schools. Nearly everything has become enclosed within capitalism: not just property and land but also our health, our computer clicks, our geographical location, our time. During the pandemic, even our ability to talk to the people we love has been turned into profits for big tech companies.

Image: protests
Every superhero has their theme music, and every clampdown its resistance. Negative freedoms have become a motor driving protest movements around the world. These protests and occupations have breathed new life into the commons – the resources we share freely, our ideas, our culture, our caregiving – everything that lives outside the market.

Image: urban gardens ghana, landless people movement Namibia, Chilean women fight domestic violence
Commoning is the practice of putting more and more of your life outside the reach of what can be turned into money. The allure of commoning is that it’s possible to do wherever there’s a willing community: like the urban gardens in Ghana, the Landless People’s Movement in Namibia, or the Chilean women fighting domestic violence with their chant song The Rapist is You.

Image: song The Rapist is You
The patriarchy is a judge
that judges us for being born
and our punishment
is the violence you don’t see.
It’s femicide.
Impunity for the murderer.
It is the disappearances.
It is the rape.
And the fault wasn’t mine, not where I was, not how I dressed
And the fault wasn’t mine, not where I was, not how I dressed
The rapist was you.

Image: man free falling
As Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” This is the freedom that many share today. It’s the freedom of falling, free falling, experienced by those living paycheque to paycheque. This new class of part-time gig workers have become so widespread they have earned their own name: the precariat. (title: part time gig workers: precariat scrolls on)

Image: freelancers
My dad worked for the same company his whole life. But neoliberalism offers us freedom from good jobs. Today’s gig economy is filled with side hustles, independent contractors and freelancers.

Image: Ivanhoe
The word “freelance” comes from the medieval term for a mercenary soldier, a “free lance,” meaning a soldier who is not attached to any particular master or government and can be hired for a specific task. The term was first used by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) in Ivanhoe to describe a “medieval mercenary warrior” or “free-lance,” indicating that the lance is not sworn to any lord’s services.

Image: Tokyo, Nike commercials
Japan’s industrial revolution in the 1970s saw big industries close down their factories and replace them with supply chains. Front office would draw up the plans, then managers would source parts and materials, mostly outside the country, where environmental laws could be stepped over and labour was cheaper. The result was better products made for less money. As Nike’s vice president said, “We don’t know the first thing about manufacturing. We are marketers and designers.” Nike used low-price supplier networks, signing contracts with over 900 factories. To speak of Nike evokes the pleasures of designer brands and the terrors of the sweatshop, where working conditions have come to resemble the middle ages.

Image: samurai skateboarding
In Japanese cinema, there is a long tradition of the homeless freelancer. This character is called the “ronin,” a wandering samurai who has no permanent master. He has lost the privileges of serving a single boss and now faces a world characterized by a deadly self-interest, where everyone is at war with everyone else. The only thing he has left are his fighting skills, which he rents out.

Image: Yojimbo
The classic freelancer film is Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) which became popular in the West because it was adapted as a spaghetti western by Italian director Sergio Leone.

Image: A Fistful of Dollars, Yojimba
A Fistful of Dollars (1964) launched both Clint Eastwood and the extra wide super-close-up, usually showing sweaty men staring each other down before the killing begins. It offered us the violence of the face. But the original Japanese version is more interesting. In its opening sequence, we are faced with a surprisingly contemporary situation. The freelancer walks through a barren landscape, approaching a village where he meets people in different stages of pain and loss. The closing shot of the introduction shows a dog strolling past with a human hand in his mouth.

Image: Yojimbo
In Kurosawa’s film, the country is transitioning from a production-based economy to a consumption-and speculation-based one. The village is ruled by two capitalist warlord rivals. People are giving up their manufacturing businesses to become brokers and agents. At the same time, weaving and knitting – professions deeply associated with the beginnings of capitalism – are being outsourced to housewives. The new postproduction economy means that valuable commodities like security guards and sex workers stand on every street corner. This is the situation when the freelancer appears on the scene. In the end, he manages to pit the two warlords against each other and liberate the villagers.

Image: Rogue contractors, Blackwater in Iraq
While the story of the ronin is a fitting allegory for the conditions of today’s freelancers, the mercenary is not just a historical figure. The use of mercenary soldiers has made a surprising comeback, especially during the ironically named Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Image: Wikileaks video
The use of 20,000 private soldiers during the occupation of Iraq highlights the increasing privatization of warfare and the difficulty of controlling these soldiers for hire.

Image: mercenary
As many political scientists have noted, the privatization of warfare is another symptom of the nation-state growing weaker. It signals a loss of control over military power, undermining accountability and the rule of law, calling into question the state’s so-called “monopoly on violence.” Negative freedom offers two complementary figures: the freelancer and the private security contractor. The mercenary.

Image: portraits
Freelancers and mercenaries have no loyalty to traditional organizations, like corporations or countries, which can offer them only negative freedom: the freedom from everything, the freedom to be outlaws or, as the old expression goes: free game. Free game for the market; free game for the deregulation of states, and finally the deregulation of liberal democracy itself.

Image: data city
We’re all communists with our closest friends and feudal lords when dealing with small children. All social systems, including capitalism, rest on a foundation of everyday communism. It means being in service to the ones who live in your heart. Could we structure an economy the way we exchange information while talking?

Image: portraits
My friend Francisco got into sex work because a clinic in his city was offering free health care for sex workers. He was a young artists and didn’t have health insurance. He discovered, doing sex work, that some men wanted to use his body to play out racist fantasies. He used to feel wounded when a lover used racial slurs during sex. It was easier to accept this language at work, which was a kind of drag, he says, because “it was something that I could put on and take off.” He considered it a service to allow other men to exorcise their racist impulses on him.

Image: Without a Word
At this point a new negative freedom emerges: the freedom not to be represented by traditional institutions, which refuse any responsibility for you but still try to micromanage your life through systems of online snooping that, as Edward Snowden showed us, are not targeted at individuals suspected of committing crimes. They are designed to gather all possible data from everyone. Saying no to Google and Gmail, to cookies and the cloud, means voting against the surveillance state.

Image: city Data City 2
The surveillance state offers us a new question. If our old ways of representation are failing, could we be represented differently?

Image: AIDS, Self-portrait
The thing that occurs to me so what we have a documentation of David with rage, we have a documentation of David angry, we have documentation of David scared, it’s all this stuff that I can only imagine is for after my death. And again it’s like so what? How many thousands of people have died of AIDS now? How many documentations do we have to have of a sick dying faggot sitting in a room going through whatever shit he’s going through and oh look he has rage and oh yes he has fear. Oh yes he has a mind…. To be a participant in recording myself for after my death just seems pretty fucked up. There’s moments I look at it and I just think it’s pretty fucking sick.

Title: During Covid, 73 countries ran out of HIV drugs.

Image: Dark Web Senses
Rosalia wrote out this story for me because she knew I was making this film.

My son Manolo was 19 years old when he was diagnosed with AIDS. His doctor said that he probably contracted HIV around the age of 14. At the time he felt like he always had the flu, but he never complained. That was Manolo. A sweet kid, a pleaser. He had this shine in his eyes like he knew something the rest of us didn’t. I remember my little boy with the nicest hands to hold, always a little sweaty.

Manolo was hospitalized for the last time in February, after he moved to Durango. He had three different kinds of pneumonia. He’d lost the use of his legs from PML and was slowly losing the use of his arms. He weighed 36 kilos. I went to visit him there and stayed as long as they let us. He still has the nicest hands I’ll ever hold.

Image: “Bust” by Richard Morrison
I always felt as a teenager that if this society could even for 5 minutes deal with mortality on a coast to coast level, in education, our institutions and our schools, most of us would never be doing the things that we’re doing. We wouldn’t care to support the social structure if we really understood something about mortality. And to leave the bed of a friend who can’t even put a spoon in his own mouth…

Image: Anonymous
In 2008, the Guy Fawkes mask was taken up by the hacker group Anonymous as its public face for a protest against Scientology. Since then, it went viral and became a sign for saying no. What is rarely mentioned is that this is the face of a mercenary.

Image: Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes was not only the person who was executed because he wanted to blow up the British Parliament. He was also a religious mercenary, fighting for the Pope on battlefields across Europe. The hacker group Anonymous turned an abstracted likeness of his face into a mask, offering another picture of what a mercenary might look like, and what their new role might be in a surveillance state.

Image: V is for Vendetta trailer
Today the new mercenary – who is supposedly free from everything – is no longer a subject, but an object: a mask. The mask first appeared in V for Vendetta, a science-fiction film about a masked rebel named V who takes on a fascist British government.

Image: V for Vendetta
The Guy Fawkes mask offers its wearer the freedom not to be represented. It’s a cover story that says yes and no at the same time, allowing people to be at once visible and anonymous.

Image: Pussy Riot, Zapatistas
Let’s look at other uses of masks or artificial personas to see how the emblem of the mercenary might be taken further. The Russian punk band Pussy Riot used brightly-colored balaclavas to conceal their faces during guerilla performances in public spaces that were filmed as music videos and uploaded to the net. Confronting a regime that routinely jails people because of their Facebook posts, they openly denounced Putin as a corrupt dictator, and despite so-called Gay Propaganda Laws, they championed queer rights. Their masks not only concealed their faces, but also referenced one of the most famous icons of good-humored revolt: the pipe-puffing Subcomandante Marcos, for years the unofficial spokesperson of the Zapatista movement.

Image: Seven Samurai.
As figures of contemporary economic reality, mercenaries and freelance hackers are free to break away from their employers and reorganize as guerrillas – or as the gang of ronin portrayed in Kurosawa’s masterwork Seven Samurai (1954). Seven freelancers team up to protect a mountain village from bandits. In the end, they stand by the funeral mounds of their fallen comrades, while joyful villagers sing and plant their crops.

Image: medieval
When wages were first introduced, in the middle ages, they were greeted with fear and condemnation. Wages were a guarantee of poverty, and permanent hunger. There were rebellions, riots and anti-wage protests. It’s only in the last hundred years that some governments, under overwhelming pressure from the street, created wages that guaranteed security. The new gig economy of the freelancer is an attempt to roll back these gains.

Image: Beautiful world
According to French social scientist Robert Castel, the great achievement of the welfare state was about offering protection. Without state protection, he wrote, the insecurity people faced was like a contagious epidemic. The insecurity of the freelancer is quote “Like a virus that permeates everyday life.” If the virus of insecurity was allowed to spread, it would destroy the state. Using what Foucault named biopolitics – national policies designed to manage bodies – the welfare state would create herd immunity against the ruling class.

Image: protests
Are governments the answer? Let’s pose a different question. Will the protests that erupted because of the old racism and the new economic insecurity spread like an infection, and become a global pandemic of resistance? What does a pandemic of hope and solidarity look like?

Face collage
It is not only capitalist methods of production that are in crisis, but the old forms of political representation.

Image: woman looks at moving paintings
What kind of pictures do we need now? And what will we show and share, before we find them?

Still pics: Mike wearing mask
Covid vaccines were developed by researchers working on AIDS. They built on their own science, and I’d like to think that our activism in the 80s led to the quick release of these life-saving medicines. At least, for some.

During the pandemic I got used to wearing a mask instead of a face.
Like the nurses, the gig workers, the activists.

When I became HIV positive, and death rubbed away my old face
the virus gave me a second chance, a second life.
Like every revolution, the virus taught me that you only live twice.

Image: apartment
I would like to spit their death sentences out of my mouth
Instead I’m learning to turn them into new words
Like: thank you.

Thank you bullies, thank you tyrants, thank you to the person who gave me AIDS, who gave me Covid, thanks for all the kicks and hurts along the way.

Image: light in apartment, writing in light

Audre Lorde taught me to say:
I can’t remember the words of my first poem
but I remember a promise
I made to my pen and pencil
never to leave them lying
in someone else’s blood.