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READ: Poems From West Hollywood's First Poet Laureate, Steven Reigns

READ: Poems From West Hollywood's First Poet Laureate, Steven Reigns

Gaëtan Dugas

You couldn’t have been the first
but that is how we know you.
Patient Zero, who started it all.
More like Ground Zero of the disease.
Cinema and history books have marked your name as a monster.
A French bomber detonating the disease
in each ass and mouth he encountered.
But I have more faith in humans than that; I have more faith in you.
A man with only one public photo, your blond hair
swirling above your head like Einstein.
I tracked down that photo,
wanted to see who was to blame, who was responsible
for the deaths of my friends.
And there you were,
looking like you had been captured by the shutter
while on an amusement ride.
I kept staring at you, your toxic body long departed from earth.
I kept staring and felt sadness that we’ve rewritten your history.
How could you have known, as a lover,
that while you wooed them with your accent and charms
while you gave pleasure, that you were also killing.
Planting poisons that they’d share with others.
I think of you standing at the front of a plane,
your stewards uniform pressed and crisp,
You pointing with two fingers to the exits and aisle lights,
you miming how to use the oxygen mask and life vest.
I like this image, you were interested in saving lives,
not killing.
You liked to serve and please.
That is what you did,
offered love wrapped in barbed wire, not knowing
and the unknowing is why
I forgive you.

*French-Canadian flight attendant and extensive world traveler Gaëtan Dugas was labeled in 1982 as “Patient Zero” for AIDS  (then known as GRID, Gay Related Immune Deficiency) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dugas was connected sexually to 41 of the first 248 reported cases in the U.S. and nine of the first 19 cases in Los Angeles. By his own estimation, he had intercourse with 250 partners a year until his death on March 30, 1984.


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