The Best Poets: Hear From Lambda's Nominees
BY Daniel Reynolds
March 31 2014 7:31 AM ET
From Alternative Medicine by Rafael Campo
Band of Gold
You told me the lesser known lesbians
like Willa Cather and Alice Toklas
who died unremarkable, quiet deaths
never interested you. After all,
who wouldn’t drink or pine themselves into
oblivion alone like that, unloved?
The only reason you were homeless was
because you beat up your brother Leon
after he called you a dyke and your folks
threw you out. You painted your nails pink
while you listened to Freda Payne belt out
“Band of Gold” over and over again.
You said she really knew what she was
talking about, because your girlfriend
left you when she found out you had cancer
and it hurt in exactly the same way.
You said your guess was she was probably
queer too, but since it was the seventies
you couldn’t sing about another woman
breaking your heart like that. I was there
when you told the surgeon, sure he could
cut them off, but how would he like it if
someone cut off his cock? After you died
alone in your room one night, your mother
showed up with some hash brownies she’d baked you,
which were too sweet and didn’t get us high.
The solarium felt like the inside
of emptiness, bright and airless and hot.
She told me that Leon had moved out, and
Freda Payne was a pretty black woman
who could pass for white and whose sister
was a back up singer for the Supremes.
She had a film career that not many
people know about because of that
goddamn song, that whenever you hear it
you understand, whatever love might be,
it abandons us all us, mercilessly.
Excerpted from Alternative Medicine by Rafael Campo with permission from the author. Copyright 2013. Published by Duke University Press.
Rafael Campo, M.A., M.D., D. Litt., is a poet and essayist who teaches and practices internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He is also on the faculty of Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA Program. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Poetry Series award, and a Lambda Literary Award for his poetry; his third collection of poetry, Diva (Duke University Press, 2000), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Enemy (DUP, 2007), won the Sheila Motton Book Award from the New England Poetry Club, one of the nation’s oldest poetry organizations.