The apartment is empty and spare, the white sky subdued
Fiats honk tentatively below.
I’m left in peace on day X of my illness
no more my body’s droning quarrels to occupy this space
no more blankness of patient, prayerless waiting.
Deep in the night my mind, so long quiescent, roused,
rife with bitter resistances, rewordings, rejoinders.
I’m an ideologue-to-be, twenty nine years to life.
In with the plans ran memories:
A whore stood on the stairs at Beijing Station
rivers of men disgorged from the underground lapping at her feet
her lipstick was not well-drawn
as if stenciled by a hasty giant or industrial machine
her body squeezed by tight clothes
I was in the middle of laughter when I saw her,
bounding up ahead of friends to the top
solitary she waded in the shallows of the river of men
my eyes swung aside at the signal of her lipstick
the signal of her stance, stare, and dress.
She gave the impression of looking for someone in particular
someone long-awaited, long-wondered
as if she were not a whore but a girlfriend, a sister.
As I passed her watching her eyes found me
she felt the question of my look
as if I were not a stranger but a boyfriend or brother unrecognized.
Was the illusion in me or in her?
A whore should be harder than that.
The illness of humanity still lingered in her.
Last night three Chinese girls I know barged in uninvited
commandeered my symptoms for comment,
scraped crust from my pots and pans,
cooked, watched me eat, demanded I see a doctor:
the fierce compassion of young girls.
If only illness softens us, weakens us, humanizes us,
what is our hardness but health unchecked, the arrogance of
sustained growth, a cancerous bloom of power?
May 23, 1999 Cairo