“Silence = Death”  

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.