Kimberly L. Becker




My AIDS patient tells me that my hair, in
the light, is the same color as his partner’s,
who is dead, but whose hair my patient
cut and gave to his partner’s mother after
he had died, per his request, even though
the mother hated and blamed her son’s lover.
My patient’s partner wore a ponytail
as I often do, but today my hair
is loose and something about the glint of
it has caused my patient’s eyes to light up
and he pronounces, copper, before ex-
plaining what he meant. I sit in silence
in deference to his memory. Not
brown, but copper, he reiterates with
satisfaction and suddenly I feel
anointed with something like a blessing
by sharing even slimly in the love
they knew. His face goes private for a moment,
he closes his eyes and reaches to touch
his graying, curling hair he has told his
home health aide he wants to let grow long even
though it makes bathing him take longer.
I tell him he looks handsome with hair longer
and he smiles. We sit in thought for our re-
spective long-haired lovers, past and present.
We talk about religion, all the shit
that’s in the Bible, who slept with whom or
even murdered someone, and remember
the old story about Samson and his
hair, his strength, and somehow it’s a comfort,
not contrived or foisted on us, and we laugh
and I hold his hand and he says he’s glad I came.
I’ll cry later in the car but I also
will remember copper and then recall
how at a back-to-school-night my son’s chemistry
teacher showed us how copper burned with green
surprising flame and gave the reason for it,
something I think to do with oxidation,
but don’t ask me for details, all I know
is I was mesmerized by the seeming
transformation and now, having heard
my patient say copper for what I thought
was basic brown, I am reminded that
in the light and chemistry of love
we see the brightest in each other
and even a penny, next to worthless,
can exhibit a patina the color
of lichen on stone and turns out lichen
is not a single organism but
a partnership or symbiosis
and through my patient’s one word copper,
he has generated worlds of memory,
connection and truth and even though his body
is failing in its strength against a stronger lion,
his spirit is arrayed and shines with light.