Rafael Campo



His worn-out T-shirt, black as mourning, black

as countless deaths, surprises me—it screams

a phrase I've heard so many countless times

before, in words hot pink as countless

fevers—heat of language, demonstrations,

why does it still threaten me, I who held

my patient's hand who died his wordless death,

the respirator hissing in my ear

the countless breaths he couldn't take himself. 

That was years ago, almost decades now.

Today, I see his T-shirt and I think

he isn't taking all his antiviral meds,

the countless pills he piled on my desk

to silence me, my T-cell counts and viral loads

detectable at greater than one hundred thousand,

the silent viral particles that swell

to numbers more than even we will count—

I pause, and shift a moment in my chair;

I ask, "How many loved ones did you lose?"

"I can't count them" is his response. "But one

left me this stupid T-shirt when he died."

Then, we're silent, counting moments, death

counting us in all its infiniteness,

in all we know that words cannot explain.