top of page

[abandoned ashes]

january 1, 1991

dear mom

the tree outside

my hospital room window

is bare

leafless and empty

a skeleton imposing itself

against the deep blue

expanse of sky

I sometimes imagine

this window is my mirror

that the frozen branches

caught by winter’s

frigid grasp

just have to wait

for another spring

when longer brighter days

will bring new growth

reviving the dormant tree

to life

yet I know this is

a springtime fantasy

for I am decaying

into a frail fragment

of what you must remember

of me

I’ve stopped asking the nurses

if they’ve reached you

or expect you to visit

I see the pity for you

in their eyes

the judgment

they lather

into their words

what a shame it must be

to have your only son

wasting away

from this sinful disease

my nurses treat me

like toxic waste

reviling every time

they must touch me

concealing themselves

behind masks and gloves

ready to cleanse

this filth

from the earth

I watch the tree branches

swaying in the distance

gliding past one another

how long it’s been

since I’ve felt

a thoughtful touch

or the warm embrace

of my mother’s arms

the doctors say they’ll

help manage my pain

I numbingly listen to

the helpless indifference

they’ve rehearsed and regurgitated

to countless hollow frames

of human beings

gay human beings

gay human beings with immune deficiency

gays with human decency deficiency

gays with dignity deficiency

gays with friends and family deficiency

gays with love deficiency

this must be the only disease

that forces families apart

rather than drawing loved ones

close when I need you most

who knew I would become an orphan

while both my parents are living

less than a mile away

hey mom

do you still think of me

wondering when I’ll die

so the neighbors’ whispers

will fade into the dirt

along with your former son

I’d like to be cremated

my ashes mixing with the thawing soils

nourishing the next season’s unfolding

miraculously an angel has appeared

she visits with me almost daily

she visits all of us here

a saint among the lepers

she doesn’t hide behind

a mask or gloves

yet holds my hand when I cry

her laugh is bright

and her smile is wide

I told her I want to be cremated

because I know you’ll abandon

my ashes too


the end is near

my breaths are weak and shallow

my vision’s blurred

my arms and legs

have shrunk to thin twigs

is that you

are you here beside me

or is that my angel

who is destined to bury me

I close my eyes

and imagine the upcoming spring

how I’ll be planted

deep into the earth

weaving and dancing with roots

sprouting in fresh green leaves

flowering in new buds

swaying peacefully

above you mom

so I guess I will

be here this spring

after all

Note: I wrote this poem about a man dying during the AIDS crisis of the 1990s. Thousands of people, especially young gay men, were lost in the spring of their lives and sometimes shunned by their families and communities due to homophobia and a lack of understanding about HIV, which thankfully today is treatable and untransmittable with medication.

I was inspired by the compassion and love shown by LGBTQIA+ people and their allies during those difficult times, including Ruth Coker Burks, who cared for men dying of AIDS in the 80s and 90s and even buried some of them in a cemetery when their own families abandoned them.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing a similar hate mirrored today in anti-transgender laws, don’t say gay bills, injustices faced by intersex people and the epidemic of violence faced especially by Black and brown transgender women. Though it’s important to remember there is always light in the darkness—helpers who shine like angels, organizations fighting for equal rights and every person who chooses to act out of love over hate. This poem is dedicated to the helpers—may their light always shine brighter than the darkness.

Thank you for reading this poem and choosing to show love and compassion.

—beau j frail

45 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page