Meryl Stratford
Night’s Candles

I went to the movies
wept over Tom Hanks
dying of AIDS in Philadelphia
thought of Key West
Cayo Hueso, Isle of Bones,
thought of Charles, David, Oscar, Larry,
thought of Michael in Steambath
Larry, one of The Boys in the Band
Oscar, storming through night after night of Extremities
David, the wild boy in Orphans.
Thought of Michael Bennett
before he was Michael Bennett
just an incredibly talented kid
growing up in Buffalo
everybody could see
he was going to be somebody
he had a long Italian name
said he was going to change it
call himself Bennett for Bennett High School.
Thought of Charles, Charles of the burning blue eyes
everyone lusted for Charles, the girls, the guys,
even straight guys when they’d had a few drinks would say
if I were gay, I would love Charles.
Charles playing word games, mind games
a game of Essence
Charles getting stoned
Charles sunbathing on the wooden pier, queer pier,
Charles who came to my first poetry reading.
Charles teaching jazz class in a tank top and tight pants
all muscle and sweat on the edge of the music
improvising funky arms, a crazy turn
and a thrust of the pelvis
he’d smile and say just get the first eight counts
the class kept moving, punctuated by jokes
the class kept moving, punctuated by laughter
in a dark theatre you’d always know
Charles in the audience, his raucous laughter.
Ah, Charles.
Charles in As Is, he played the healthy one
Charles in denial, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get sick,
Charles in anger,
he said I work off emotion
what he felt was anger.
Charles gone on a trip to the Holy Land
Charles back in town, I met him at the deli
he was pale, wearing a blue wool cap,
was that the last time I kissed him
soft, on his cheek.
He said he was tired of teaching beginners
he was teaching meditation now
at the sanctuary.
Charles in his last play, El Grande,
the sombrero and the fake moustache
they say he collapsed after every scene
pulled himself together and went back on
Charles giving away autographed pictures
me frantically waving
and he brought me one
all the way in the last row.