(for my friend who has just died of AIDS)

Behind a wall shrouded
in shadow and darkness,
you paint
in brilliant light,
waiting above curving stone steps.
You paint Death
a hooded, skeletal figure,
smiling, inviting, friendly:
a mocking cliche.

I imagine you
in that darkness,
warm foot upon cold stone
as you run wildly
to his waiting arms.

Do you stumble
on the top step?

I imagine not,
you step over, pause,
and Death folds
you in velvet robes
and presses you
into his ivory cage.

--Leila Rae (1990)