Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Here's a list of things to do, maybe to get you started:







Stare at the sun.

Lift your arms up.



Hit someone.

Go up a flight of stairs.

Kick in a door.

Light something on fire.

Take something.

Ruin something that belongs to someone else.





Abandon something.

Break something.

Try flying.

Throw something at something else.


Pervert somebody.

Take advantage of someone's trust.

Cause harm to a body.


Examine yourself.

Make waste.

Cause an obstruction.

Free something.

Make a list.


Laugh at someone's unfortunate predicament.

Study history.


Draw with ink.



Put a foreign object in you.

Cut yourself.

Berate your neighbors.

Bemoan your own condition.



Expose your genitalia.

Make false prayers in church.

Break appointments.

Tidy up.

Lift something heavy.

Touch something dirty.




Reject love.

Send messages.

Open your self up.


Crush something small with your foot.

Endure something boring.


Taste the roof of your mouth.

Feel your fingers.



Spend money you don't have.

Write something spectacular.

Quit working.


Eat sugar straight from the carton.


Push someone near you.

Stare at someone you don't know.

Show off.

Sweat a bit.

Grow weak in the sun.


Give everything away.

Go bald.

Walk for days.

Invent yourself.

Satisfy your most immediate need.


Laugh at your parents.


Spurn God.

Make something confusing.

Frighten a pet.

Leave someone alone for once.

Let something rot.

At the clothing optional watering hole near the Cummington Community of the Arts, 1993

That afternoon we had finally seen a bear,

I had walked naked in the woods, finally,

looked for Old Graybeard, felt the hair on my bottom,

felt it as I had never had, as it always was. 


I could see my color in the bark

and the wind moved branches I thought were other men, naked too,

superannuated Eakins reclining on Goshen stone,

their color in the bark, their skins and bottoms feeling,

I am sure, as it always was.


Back at the house I had a role to do,

the place making me an actor too, my voice voicing.

Commit, I was told during the earlier rehearsals. 

I could commit but I wanted cues. 

I was answered I didn't need any.  Need any?


I followed the path, the thousand paths in the woods,

saw my bear, played the painting in my skin,

brushed whiskers with Old Graybeard.

Someone here said they know someone who has his cane.

The very staff that poked the earth!  I committed.


Promise me I will be secret

my poem says to me before it

reaches the front of my head

and ultimately  my hand.


Promise me I will be a secret

or I won't come out at all.


It's a shy thing my poem,

shy things my poem and me.


We must grow a bit in hiding,

try on our wardrobe of revisions.


Soon it will be perfect, I say.

Soon I will be everything

That you will be.

In junior high we were all neuter.

We were neuter beyond our sex.

We were plain and rubbed smooth in all we did.

Differences began to grow on us


like the first gentle pimples

and whispers of moustache.


Now, though, on subways and sometimes passing by

on the old streets here I see what we've all become.

We have forked and split like the hydra we studied. 

Big boys now, women waisted and married,

angry career homosexuals, or fallen into sales and smarminess,

gone crazy or to California,

been addicted, diagnosed, driving, playing the game,

meeting the man, stooped with shame.


Then I think it's not the X caps,

the tattoos, china patterns, prescriptions,

the muscles, the nicotine patch,

the three hundred dollar shoes or the virus.

It's just the size. 


And we were never neuter, always lugging the tiny germ with us,

the difference between and or or.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


A World Series for Emily!

An answer for Emily, late October is coming

your birthdeath

Michael too, honking out the

last AIDSbreath while you what?

Drank a pale ale, bad wine

- a spandex girlfriend with AA medallions

reclining in your lap.


Schenectady mourns you.

Poughkeepsie mourns you.

The great counties of the Great State of New York

dim their headlights.

Everyone freezes in a game of statues -

then goes on shopping, sweating.


I shrug at the ceiling.  Catholic me

would get great comfort if you were up there

watching me write.

Anarcobuddhistpothead sees you in every mote

in the sunlight

in the dyke sportif of Eighth Avenue-


                 Your birthdeath

                 Michael's first death day

He turned gray in Saint Vincent's

and it was over and we were thankful

but this, Emily, just confuses me

and all the time I say is it true

not seeing you for years

and then never being able to

see you again still with visions of

the platinum future you and me

driving high in the valley

and me killing myself to impress you

            (You killed yourself?)

                  For love

                  and your highest opinion.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Only Yes Endures

I am heading out today to the “U-Haul Cup,” a response to the better known (and actually legitimate) Ryder Cup golf tourney that my little brother Peter and a few of his buddies established some years ago at our family’s country place in Buck Hill Falls (in the greatly misunderstood Pocono mountains).  A few of you here knew Peter, and what a bright open soul he was, a person who loved and was genuinely interested in all people, as comfortable around golfers and good old boys as he was with drag queens, teamsters, priests, performance artists, gym teachers, pot dealers and cats, to name a few. 

Pete always said he never got the “creative gene”, like the rest of us.  He was the “straight” one, the lawyer, the Catholic school boy and he might not have gotten our lives (“Vegetarian, Matt?  Really?” He would ask as he melted a slice of American cheese on his cube steak frying in the pan) but he got our love to be sure and we got his back in spades. He was our rock when we lost our other brothers Michael and Vincent to AIDS back in the day and his own sudden passing from a myocarditis that everyone thought was the flu was the cruel reminder of our fragile perch in the world.  He joined Michael and Vincent, another star in that sad spreading constellation, fixed in the sky well before it was right for any of them, but heaven is all the brighter for it.


Tomorrow I will play golf for the third time in my life, I will tear up the greens in honor of my jocky little bro, for native Brooklyn pride (fuckin’A!), for the sons of Midwood, and especially for Mom and  Pop.  I will raise a toast, and that ungainly trophy that sits on the piano (a trophy that I am still convinced is a champagne bucket Peter swiped from the Grand Prospect Hall in Windsor Terrace).  I know I will score high (please, no jokes).  I might not recognize myself in the doing of it but what does it matter?  I will open myself to all the unexpected possibilities.  Downward dog on the eighth tee?  The streety southpaw poet putting in country club Elysium?  Why the hell not?  Brother Vincent, window dresser and dandy, who was more comfortable at the Roxy in flowered showercap and long underwear (another story for another time), would certainly have taken up the clubs too. Peter’s quick exit from this life was the harshest toke anyone could have imagined.  But for life to mean anything it has to end, and for love to mean anything it has to endure.  As much as Pete’s loss taught us that lesson, his life reminded us still of the world’s precious and inexhaustible gifts.   Say yes to everything, Vincent would have intoned.  Yes, only yes, is finally what endures.


Namaste baby Bro (and fore!)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The night

The night
When it first falls 
is gray and gauzy before our eyes   

It takes away everything 
That is clear and true 
but changes nothing   

Brings nothing 
But the suggestion 
of shadows   

It is an invisible darkness   

The dark before the dark 
The dream before sleep

Friday, August 15, 2008


Poem in a book lost and found

The moss grows on the rocks
In the darkest and wettest part
of the wood.
Here there is a place to sit,
Here there is the moment forever
turning over and being the moment.

This is the old soup of creation.
Sometimes it smells bad but that
is just a reminder
that not everything good or true
is so pretty.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How I stopped worrying and learned to love Walmart

My hometown has yet to receive a Wal-Mart, so shopping at one is still kind of exotic to me. I never would have thought I could buy underwear, motor oil, frozen shrimp and a crossbow all in one place.  Brooklyn, far behind on the mega-store curve but catching up quickly, still has none.  In northeastern Pennsylvania, where my folks bought a house a few years ago, there is the first and only Wal-Mart I have ever visited.  The store is monumental in its banality and sublime in its material abundance.  I remember the first time I crossed its threshold.  It was akin to visiting Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  At both places the scale is daunting, the visual stimulation overwhelming, and one gets the feeling they each represent only the knife’s edge of a massive complex of economic and cultural influences. 

My family had gone to Rome in the summer of 1990.  My late brother Michael at the time had full blown AIDS and was involved with ACTUP, the direct action AIDS advocacy group.  Although far from proletarian he was greatly disturbed by the opulent wealth and power represented at the Vatican - it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the image of Christ that we were raised with, the simple man whose treasure was in heaven and his heart.  He was also disturbed by the contradictory stances the Church took with regards to the disease.  The Church, through Saint Vincent’s Hospital, provided him, and my brother Vincent who also died of the disease, with excellent and compassionate care.  At the same time they lobbied against the use of condoms for its prevention and in general the frank discussion of human sexuality that was necessary in a time of epidemic.  The conflict pitted ideals against practicality.  In life and death matters it was not that hard to choose.

It’s easy to knock Wal-Mart, and most of the time I think it is justified.  They are an aesthetic blight on our landscape, their presence in a community often threatens small business owners and Main Streets all over the country, they have questionable employee benefit practices and aid and abet spurious Chinese trade and labor policies. Like all commercial behemoths they dumb down and homogenize our culture by reducing choice and access through their goliath reach that obliterates all other outlets for products, cultural as well as material.  Unfortunately they are also really cheap.

There were five of us brothers in my family and my folks raised us on city employee salaries, the Board of Education specifically.  I am still stupefied as to how they pulled it off, raising us as well-fed, educated, intellectually inquisitive, more or less happy young people.  My mom is a veteran bargain hunter, as well as a devout Catholic.  We’re not getting back to Rome any time soon, but, much to my chagrin, the mega-store is quickly proving to be her other pilgrimage.  Had we grown up in the Pocono’s instead of Brooklyn I don’t doubt that we would have been Wal-Mart babies. The New York native in me recoils at this thought of course, but how else to provide for a large family on a modest salary? 

Strange then that something “good” is something “bad”.  Can we have it both ways?  Can we have the convenience of a vast, modern economy and still preserve a daily life that hasn’t had the originality, autonomy and authenticity marketed out of existence?  Can we provide affordable goods without wreaking havoc on other sectors of our lives and other parts of the globe?  I hope the answer is yes. 

Saint Peter’s Basilica is a triumph of human creativity.  No matter what it represents, it is still among the most beautiful and transporting things created by mankind.  Wal-Mart, while no beauty, is also a triumph in its own right, a product of the most advanced part of our global economy and technology.  Neither is perfect of course, and both in many ways are still works in progress.  The world is full of triumphs - complicated, imperfect, ever improving triumphs.  Whitman said that America is a poem constantly rewriting itself.  The bright spot of hope in that thought is that we are all the poets of that great work, so the responsibility for change lies in ourselves, and who better to do it?  Whitman also said,  “Do I contradict myself, very well then I contradict myself.  I am large, I contain multitudes.”  I think we have to embrace these types of contradictions if we are truly going to make changes in the world.

This is no apologia for the monster retailer.  Rather it is a call if not to arms then to consciousness.  If you really want to change the world, to make it better, you’d better be prepared to have an open mind, to accept some very surprising facts, and to face opinions and attitudes that you might not have expected to have.  That’s half the battle, recognizing it is ourselves who hold the power, especially in a consumer society.  Yes, our choices have been limited and often we seem to be exempted entirely from the grand marketing and development schemes of the biggest players.  But the bottom line is we still control our pocketbooks.  Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.”   What is the Wal-Mart you wish to see in the world?  You need only lift your voice to make it happen.

Retail Activism

Last night I was pleased to see the “Retail Activist” tote bag in the window of my local Housing Works Thrift Shop.  I am on the board of directors of the shops, a not for profit agency which provides a variety of services for the homeless /AIDS population in New York City and beyond.  We raise money by operating over half a dozen thrift stores in New York. Primarily the money comes from the sale of donated goods.  Housing Works focuses on better gently used items.  We are a “luxury” thrift after all.  On the street they call us Salvation Armani.  The tote bag is part of new initiative, creating now our own branded products to raise funds.

I admit I take special pride in the verbiage.  I wrote it.  For five years I was the Visual Director for the company – creating window displays for all our shops.  I must have done well because I was recruited shortly thereafter by Donna Karan to fulfill the same role at her company.  I joined the Housing Works board after I left the thrift shops, consulting on merchandising issues for our ever fashion forward efforts.  The company expanded rapidly during that time (we have almost doubled the amount of stores in five years) and I put my hat into the ring to design a West Village thrift boutique, a smaller, more high-end business model with a big emphasis on in-store environment and personal service.  On the fitting room mirrors there we emblazoned the phrase “Retail Activist”, so that our customers could get a look not just at what they were buying or trying but what ultimately their business with us made them, namely activists, whether they thought about it or not.

There are many ways to make the world better and activism no matter the cause comes in many forms.  Is it really a surprise that in a consumer based culture such as our own that shopping would be one of them?  In fact in a culture like ours being a consumer might be the most powerful position of all – that is of course if we are aware of that power.  Now in a stalled economy the point is driven home.  People are feeling the need to reclaim their authority over their spending.  Their money seems ever more a precious and limited resource, one however that is more and more in demand as the increasingly sophisticated and pervasive advertising apparatus finds ways to cajole us into buying.  It seems that we are offered more and more stuff to buy, but we are actually given less choice: products are designed for obsolescence, large franchises smother independent retailers and designers and amounts and sizes of products, especially foodstuffs, are surreptitiously made smaller. 

The one choice that remains however is what and where to buy…or not.  Withholding our money is the one thing that the great forces of commerce and fear.  We all know the adage – Money talks “etcetera etcetera” walks.  It’s not easy though.  The homogenization of retail compels a lot of people, especially people outside of big cities, to shop at large franchises where product offerings are determined in anonymous corporate offices.  They don’t really address the needs of communities or individuals.  They aim instead to shape them.  And for years now retailers have appealed to the better parts of ourselves.  Breast cancer’s pink ribbon campaign is probably the most well known of such efforts.  Of course these efforts are as much about the good public relations they generate as they are about aiding their respective causes.  At Housing Works the model is perhaps reversed.  Our mission was in place long before we opened stores and our goal was never profit in the traditional sense.  Nevertheless since our inception we recognized the importance of savvy marketing and benefits of taking advantage of all the for profit methods of appealing to customer’s desires. 

Preserving our resources of course has become a very timely cause celebré.  Fashionistas parade down the sidewalks with the “I am not a plastic bag” bag.  Recycling is derigeur.  Green materials pop up everwhere from fine furniture to wedding announcements to coffee cups.  Locavores crow about the destructive “food miles” our eating habits create.  In a way Housing Works was a green company long before anyone ever thought about it.  Our entire business model is based on recycling, on stopping the flow of waste, on giving products a second chance, and of course giving the individuals who we help their second chance as well.

I hope these simple canvas totes can broadcast the same message – to change the world with the change in your pockets and to shop as thoughtfully with as much consciousness of its power and consequences as possible.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's what I does - Baby needs a new pair of shoes

Sign of the times

Just a short rant this time.  If you live near the Brooklyn waterfront like I do you know what a treasure the New York skyline is.  Most cities are known by a single building or monument – think Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, even the Hollywood sign in L.A.  New York, too big for any one thing to ever represent, is symbolized by the city itself, the cheek by jowl mishmosh of its architecture as much as its citizenry, its denizenry, its ever changing expanding center.  Now that most of us have made the leap to Brooklyn we can gaze upon that emblem of our metropolis just as we dive into it everyday for work play love and life.


Picture then the subtle heartbreak, the pebble in the shoe one experiences standing on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.  If you’ve never been there just think back to Woody Allen’s Manhattan. No other filmmaker has laid out his love affair for the city as knowingly as Woody.  No surprise he chose the location - the view from the Promenade, one of Brooklyn’s closest points to Manhattan, adjacent to the elegant and historic Brooklyn Bridge, is one of the best for skyline gazing anywhere on earth.  It reminds us why New York is the center of the world. (Every Teutonic tourist with a Michelin guide and a half dozen megapixels apparently agrees). What then is up with the Verizon sign?


At magic hour, or the “gloaming” as it is sometimes called, the perfect moment before the sun sets, when light seems not to lay on things but to radiate out from them softly, the cluster of building in lower Manhattan swell with an other-worldly blue glow.  The magnificent bridge that soars out from Brooklyn to touch Manhattan seems to float on air, the East River merging with sky before both are obliterated and all the lights come on, E.B. White’s “diamonds on black velvet.” How’s that for some Hollywood magic?  At this hour even New Jersey doesn’t look half bad.  Then look a bit to your right and see the fifty foot high illuminated Verizon logo on the blank facade of the windowless Verizon building.  To cop the Los Angeles parlance, “Grody to the max!”


For the record there is no other logo anywhere else on the skyline like this.  It seems like Verizon has gotten exclusive branding rights to New York….Huh? 


There was a day almost seven years ago when a stroll on the Promenade provided the best vantage point for one of the darkest events in this country’s history, an orchestra seat for a giant tragedy.   Today one is still not without that peculiar quiet sense of loss when rstanding in Brooklyn egarding the wounded skyline, trying in that absence to feel whole again.   Nevertheless, it is with stoic pride that many of us go there, with tender optimism too and no small dose of a sense of sacredness. I am sure for many foreign visitors here the motivation is the same.  What then, I ask again, is up with the Verizon sign?


The streets of New York city are rife with advertising.  The industry itself is headquartered here.  How many different pitches are we subjected to in a single day? 

We can live with one less.  We can value the simple pleasure of looking at this country’s greatest city (the globe’s even?) – the messy, imperfect, loudmouthed jumble that represents us to the world more than our nation’s capital.  Some things are sacred, or at the very least special.  We can look upon bits of our world that way, in fact we should make a habit of doing so, but we can do it with out a brief message from our sponsor.

Future perfect (in Sapphic Verse)

Patience, patience, my sweet friend, patience, slowly

recall all the memories of the days when

we ran blindly unconcerned with grief, dying -

our current partner.


We stand in a river that flows not away

also not towards anything - also nothing

is here nor there -  all is just something

remembered my friend.


Recall recall those old days my friends and then

they will return be assured - again nothing

has happened that hasn't happened also

has never happened.


Sweet friend recall joy is upcoming to you

if you wait and memory's former promise

will have been fulfilled in anticipation -

in future perfect.

jake (for Jake Corbin)

I am blinded by the spell of words.  The make me forget my brothers. 


Jake will die.

Fading in Rhode Island

Seeing men long dead

telling Michael on the telephone.


I am in love with the thought of words.  They let me know my brothers. 


Jake will die

an anagram in his veins

one in his eyes

another in his brain.


I am comforted by words.  They create things from monstrous truth.  Words make handbags from dragons.


Jake will die,

and when he does his obituaries

will carry different names.

One his mother's son.

Another his own.

In the waiting room

Babies cry, evidence would suggest,

at slight changes in atmospheric pressure,

at the tap of an insects legs on carpeting,

the rustle of a virgin's hair,

pencil shavings settling at a Montessori school,

a spore alighting on Camembert,

brown leaves dropping in a memory.


And me?

The Earth would have to crack,

Levantine mountains conflagrate,

God's angry voice boom dark...fate! 



Dying hurts,

My brother  says.


It's not at all

What I imagined.


Clouds and trumpets.

Being at peace.  All that.


It's okay.  Sometimes

it's sunny, it's Paris.


Sometimes it's not.

He worries for his mother,


For a delicate ex-lover.

To Will his sofa to.


And tax returns.

Loose ends.


He chants it-

Ends, Loose Ends.


His pursuit has

Always been the truth.


His occupation,






None of this

Conforms to that.


And he gets

A little miffed

At bland pasta

And cheap flowers

Dying inside

A Catholic Hospital.

My great uncle - Panamanian poet laureate and former diplomat. Friend to Neruda, Picasso and others. Panama's emissary to Le Havre and Jamaica

Juan De La Luna by Demetrio Korsi  (translated by Matthew Aquilone)


Moon's light mixing -  

Comes back - leaves of polished gold before each alley,

            and any old broken glass, scattered on the street,

make like coronation diamonds...


            The harlequin moon,

            the high-wire moon

            on a loose wire,

            laid out on the sill;


One step, it's bound to happen -

end up in a bucket of water.


Ah money, no sense wasting it on rum!

'Cause more drunk am I on the moon than shots,

'cause for us dipsomaniacs the moon's a stiff one


not sipped,

            but sniffed -

little by little

till no more shine can ride the brain...


(And there I was,

majestically drunk,

that night downtown,

of talking out my ass;


boogied from my anguish, the anguish that hid

-in each fruit a worm-

                                    my own heart.)

An old poem for an old friend now gone (apologies and gratitiude to Allen G - you dirty old bean)


A World Series for Emily!

An answer for Emily, late October is coming

your birthdeath

Michael too, honking out the

last AIDSbreath while you what?

Drank a pale ale

              bad wine

a spandex girlfriend with AA medallions

reclining in your lap.


Schenectady mourns you.

Poughkeepsie mourns you.

The great counties of the Great State of New York

dim their headlights.

Everyone freezes in a game of statues -

then goes on shopping, sweating.


I shrug at the ceiling, Catholic me

would get great comfort if you were up there

watching me write.

Anarcobuddhistpothead sees you in every mote

in the sunlight

in the dyke sportif of Eighth Avenue-


                 Your birthdeath

                 Michael's first death day

He turned gray in Saint Vincent's

and it was over and we were thankful

but this, Emily, just confuses me

and all the time I say is it true

not seeing you for years

and then never being able to

see you again still with visions of

the platinum future you and me

driving high in the valley

and me killing myself to impress you

                  For love

                  and your highest opinion.

Day For Night

It's a cold world, the cliche runs,

the River is cold, these rooms are cold -

            My coat is threadbare and the matches are soaked.


It's Day For Night (for day for night for day for night)

I'm high-

             -up in the cold world,

I'm low in its apertured hem.

This is every day, then this is every day then.


The River is close,

just beyond the men,

beyond all ten avenues.

            These rooms are near the river, they're filled with matches.


I'm High day and night and low:

(and I'm so afraid of my cuffs and)

                                            Lo!  What is that on the river?

                                            Matchless barge of Cleopatra's age?

                                            Threadbare boat,

                                                                       rage stoked?


This river runs, rheumy and cold -

I am high, despite my load,

bright in the night light the shape of my coat


Thank You For Pot Smoking

Isn’t it finally time for a compassionate medical marijuana policy?  For too long the issue has been held up by cultural prejudices and long held political grudges.  It’s the old hippie/square square-off and its time now to get over it and act like adults when it comes to health care.  In a country where there are still open wounds over the Civil War, and in a world where millennium-old grudges are still at play in the Middle East and elsewhere, it’s no surprise that irritations over Jane Fonda and burned draft cards still ring loud and clear in our politics today.  What a travesty however that they can insert themselves into what should otherwise be a sane medical policy.  When it comes to health care we need to have a cold-eyed pragmatism, a respect for science, and most of all respect for the experiences of the patient.


Sadly this is often not the case.  A lot of people with power and voice can’t seem to separate the cultural history of the drug from its benefits that we can see today.   A lot more people don’t seem to have the courage to bring this unpopular but extremely simple issue into in a national dialogue.  There is a lot of talk of morality in this country, but what morality is there in making political hay from an issue that denies relief from people who are suffering?  Opponents claim that there is not enough medical evidence for the safety of the medical use of marijuana.  Remember that the next time you hear about a Viagra heart attack, or a Paxil induced teenage suicide.


The truth is, the evidence does bear out marijuana’s efficacy for a number of ailments. 

I lost two of my brothers to AIDS.  The both suffered a relentless sequence of opportunistic infections and an exhausting regimen of treatment. AZT, one of the first retroviral drugs approved by the FDA for treatment of AIDS had previously been developed as chemotherapy and then shelved as being too toxic and intolerable.  Along with this drug they endured chemotherapy, radiation, biopsies, blood tests, spinal taps and countless pills on top of pills on top of pills. Combine this with a host of other new and experimental pharmaceuticals, military strength antibiotics, anti-fungals, anti-nauseals, anti-depressants and you have one big sick cocktail with a lot of side effects.  There was of course no other option.  AIDS patients found themselves not only sick but trapped in a system with no choices.  It was the vocal, activist wing of the AIDS advocacy movement that actually moved our national discussion of healthcare to acknowledge greater patient autonomy and industry accountability.  That impulse, especially in the drone of vague health care proposals in this year’s election cycle, is exactly what we need to realign medicine with its original purpose, health and compassion, and not to serve as tool of politics and profit.


It was no secret back then, nor had it been for years before that that marijuana use reduced nausea and stimulated appetite in cancer patients.  It is also proven to help sufferers of glaucoma.  My late brother Michael smoked pot during his illness. He had suffered for four years though Pneumocystis pneumonia, Cryptococcus Meningitis, Thrush, Lyme Disease, Kaposi’s Sarcoma and numerous other opportunistic infections.  Using marijuana was the only thing that brought him temporary relief from nausea, the discomfort from the combined medications, the aches and pains from his ailments.  It also held at bay the aggressive wasting that withered otherwise “healthy” AIDS patients down to unsustainable weights.  I witnessed it first hand, across the kitchen table in my parents’ house.  The joint was smoked, the water put on the boil, soon there was a big pot of macaroni and a bowl of ice cream to wash it down. Also, since marijuana is a mild sedative and can be a mood elevator in many of the people who use it. I watched my brother transform from a depressed, sick person, to a relaxed, funny, smiling fighter who could finally eat.


Michael had previously been prescribed Marinol, the synthetic pharmaceutical THC replacement approved by the government, but its soporific effects were too strong and it did not stimulate his appetite in the same way as the herb in its natural form.  In this case the plant was illegal but the product was not.  When I was in college I was hospitalized with a pretty fierce tonsular abscess.  (I say that when I am embarrassed to say “tonsillitis”.)   Sure it hurt, and I was dizzy with fever for a while but there was never any real threat to my life.  I couldn’t eat with a swollen throat and was given IV antibiotics. I was also given Demerol, every four hours, at my request.  The antibiotics took care of the abscess, the swelling and therefore most of the pain.  Still I had on demand access to one of the most powerful narcotics available for pain - a drug unlike marijuana which is dangerous and has tremendous potential for abuse and physical dependency. 


Lots of prescription drugs are similarly dangerous and together account for almost one hundred thousand deaths a year in the hospital. There are to date zero deaths caused by marijuana on record, and don’t wait around for that statistic to move very much any time soon.  Oxycontin, the bull in the china shop of prescription painkillers, quickly took the lead in a deadly epidemic of addiction and abuse in this country.  It is still produced, still legal for prescription, and still dangerous. And what of my Demerol “lost weekend”?  I wonder ultimately how much that cost.


Towards the end of Michael’s life my mother realized the positive effects that marijuana had on his quality of life.  She could see it just as I had, everyday in the house where she lived, her son, across the kitchen table. And you know what they say, a mother just knows.  It wasn’t long before she was driving him to meet a friend of mine who could get marijuana for Michael.  For the record lets just say that between hippie and square my mom is definitely more of the latter, more at home in the minivan, at Key Food, at a Wednesday Matinee with her theatre group, or in church where she attends Mass every morning.  Drug runs just aren’t her style.  In this case however she was that well-needed cold-eyed pragmatist, and that brave, big-hearted activist, taking things into her own hands and moving the country, one son at a time towards a more compassionate marijuana policy.


Just a note:  My brother Vincent did not use marijuana during his illness.  He exercised that choice in his treatment, as my brother Michael exercised his, albeit illegitimately.  Should my mom go to jail for supporting him?