Monthly Archives: October 2013


When I first published Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days a year ago, I created a Facebook page for it.  Then I got tired of spending so much time on my personal Facebook page, and closed my account.  Unfortunately, that meant that I had to deactivate the book’s page as well.

Then I realized (duh) that I didn’t necessarily need to close my account entirely–I can simply stay off of my personal page (thereby demonstrating my high level of self-restraint), but still reactivate the Holding Breath page.  So that’s what I’ve done.

Anyway, if readers of this blog would be kind enough to go over to the page and “Like” it, I’d really appreciate it.  Of course, I’d appreciate it even more if you read the book, and that is my segue into telling you that Amazon just launched its “Kindle MatchBook discount”, whereby people who buy the print version of the book ($10.76) can also get the ebook for a big discount (99 cents, down from $3.99).  That way, in case there’s someone on your holiday gift-list who might be interested in reading a love story that takes place in the midst of the worst of the AIDS epidemic in New York in the late 1980’s, and you’d like to read the book too, you can get both at a discount.  Just sayin’…

Here’s the link to the book’s Facebook page:

And here, again, is the link to Amazon’s page for the print version of Holding Breath, in case you’d like to take Amazon up on its kind offer (they’re like that over there):


A Birthday, an Anniversary, and a Book Sale

Today would be David’s (the man about whom I wrote Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days) 66th birthday.  Although his life was very often something close to hell–perhaps something that he sometimes wished he’d never been born into (I don’t know that for certain, of course; he always struck me as remarkably optimistic, in spite of things)–I feel that his birth is also something that I should always celebrate in some way.  David changed the course of my life for the better, and permanently.  I sometimes wonder what I would have been like if I’d never met him; it’s not a pretty thought.

The following is an excerpt from the book about his birthday in 1989, six months before he passed on, and my realization a year later that it was approaching again, and that he was gone:

“I found an entry from 16 October 1989 that mentions his birthday.  Part of it got wet at some point and the ink ran, so some of it is illegible, but what I can put together of it says:

In six days it’ll be David’s birthday…short year ago that (I took him out) for lunch and he told me…about his life.  (We were supposed to) go see (the building’s owner) about his apartment, but it was pouring rain and (we didn’t think he should) stay out in it so I bought him an umbrella and he walked me to the PATH station.  I kissed him on the cheek and wished him happy birthday and he looked surprised, as I guess he should have been.  Then I went home and he went back up to the Marion Hotel.

Autumn’s got me thinking about him, too.  And the fact that I actually did get TB from him.  It’s stupid, but I almost like the idea that I caught something from him.  Any bond…

Today is also the first anniversary of Holding Breath‘s publication (no coincidence there), so this seems like a good time to put the Kindle version of the book on sale for a few days.  So, from today (21 October 2013) through Wednesday the 23rd, the price will be reduced from $3.99 to .99.  Once again, here’s the link to the book’s Amazon page (where you can also read the reviews):

Here’s a description of the book:

In 1988, recently out of a graduate Creative Writing program in New York City, Nancy Bevilaqua was an aspiring poet in need of a job. She answered a newspaper ad seeking caseworkers for people with AIDS, and, much to her surprise, got the job. She shouldn’t have been surprised; in 1988 AIDS was an epidemic completely out of anyone’s control beyond some toxic and ineffective treatments, and fear and misunderstanding of the disease were rampant. Very few people wanted to be in contact with people who’d been infected with HIV.

A year later, a 41-year-old heroin addict named David was assigned to her as a client. Something about him drew her to him, and in very little time the boundary between “client” and “caseworker” dissolved, and she fell in love with him. For the next eight months she lived with him in his Lower East Side apartment, caring for him and waiting with him for the inevitable end.

Before succumbing to the disease, David asked Nancy to write a book about him. Twenty-two years later, after going through an unexpected and very painful period of something she learned was called “disenfranchised grief”, she finally published Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, which is a loving account of her eight months with David, and the grief she’d had to hide for so long.

Something Different: Prose Poetry

I haven’t really written poetry in many years, but lately I’ve come crawling back.  It’s felt strange, like clumsily re-learning as an adult how to do something that came very naturally in childhood. (In the same spirit, I’ve been listening lately to the music that moved me so much when I was younger, and yet that I’d somehow almost forgotten about; this morning it was Hot Tuna’s “The Water Song”, which I used to play first thing on sunny mornings when I was at college.  OK–there weren’t ALL that many sunny mornings in Portland, but there were some. I’ve been wishing lately that I were a musician, so that I could put my words to music.)

As I was “messing around” with lines (of poetry) lately, I found that I was spending far too much time and effort trying to decide where the line-breaks should come.  I guess I’ve always found them a little annoying and somewhat beside the point, unless I was writing my sonnets or something.  Anyway, a day or two ago I decided to say to hell with them, and see if what I’ve been writing works as something along the lines of prose poetry.  So far, I’m happy with the results.

I just finished this–the third in the series of which the poems I posted a couple of posts ago are also a part:



Fires along the walls.  Lost light caught in corners, starved dogs summoned, sweat and smoke in little yards.  Moon begins her wayward fall.

Fingers practice the anatomy of stone. You drink, you dance, you spill your wine on dust that soaks up time.  You like to sing the sparks that flicker in the gorgeous mind, in the heart always dismissive of stolid, arid tunes.

Ruptured stars: down here it’s night.  Sleeping hills are turning now to space where nothing matters, your finger sliding warm and welcome down my arm.

Swallow sweeping twin-tailed to a secret room to dive, my dress a bloom. There is a bead of love between each wave, a peace that rights the murder, the only sense we ever made.


(P.S. re: my previous post–apparently marketing isn’t my forte. Fortunately for me, that comes as no surprise. In any case, the Giveaway of the print version of Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, is still open until tomorrow–David’s birthday.  As no one has entered so far, anyone who does has a pretty good chance of winning.  🙂  Here’s the link to the book’s Amazon page, just in case:

And Back To the Book

Perhaps it’s time to post another excerpt from Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, here, if only to get myself and the blog back on track.  And no–of course it’s not a coincidence that this particular excerpt is to some extent about birds (there are, actually, quite a few references to birds in the book).

It’s actually a complete, albeit short, chapter, entitled “Permission.”  Those of you who have cared for terminally ill people (or who have read Kubler-Ross’ On Death and Dying) will probably recognize this stage of things, and the painful dilemma it entails:


One of my blog posts, written many years later, was this:

Every so often I find a sick or dying bird on a sidewalk somewhere.  When they’re in that state, too weak or tired to be afraid of me, it’s easy to pick them up and take them home.  Very often they’ll look up into my eyes for a moment as if they’re trying to gauge what my intentions might be, and as if they’re saying, Do whatever you’re going to do; I’ve given up.

Every so often I can save one.  More often, it’s too late, and all I can do is hold the bird in my hands to keep it warm until it dies.  It will doze in my hands for hours, occasionally waking with a start, trying, it seems, to look as if there’s nothing wrong with it, trying to convince both of us that it’s fine.  Gradually, though, its eyes will close again.

There have been times when I thought that I prolonged a bird’s life beyond the point where it should have ended.  Thinking that I was giving comfort, I may have, in fact, made it suffer more.

I couldn’t imagine letting go, but I know that at one point I forced myself to tell David that it was O.K.—that he could stop fighting, that I’d understand.  I remember saying it as we sat together on the futon one night.  David didn’t answer; it was nearly impossible for him to speak at all by then.  But something did change after that.  He seemed relieved, somehow, and he started to let go of life.  Telling him that was one of the things that I did right back then. 

Maybe This Will Help (Me)

Having read another infuriating post today on the pigeon website I mentioned in a few posts a few days ago (this time about someone who found yet another lost racing pigeon, and was advised to “withhold food for a day”, take him ten miles away, and then release him to try–on a very empty stomach, and apparently with hundreds of miles to travel–to find his way home again), I have been struggling with myself to just leave it alone this time.  Clearly I’m not going to change anyone’s views on the subject, and I’m just too thin-skinned to take the abuse I got the last time again (clearly the “best defense is a good offense” rule is useful when one is trying to defend the indefensible).

So, instead, I’m going to post an article I wrote years ago about animal abuse here.  It was originally published in the now-defunct ASPCA Animal Watch, and subsequently in Big Apple Parent.  It’s not about pigeon-racing or “dove release”, but perhaps it touches on the same kind of thinking to some extent.  Posting it here will be the internet equivalent of sitting on my hands or biting my tongue to keep myself out of trouble.  (And yes, this blog IS about my book, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, and I do seem to be posting quite a few off-topic posts these days.  On the other hand, there is a thread running through the posts, I think, that binds them together.  As I’ve always been sickened by arrogance and ignorance about, and cruelty toward, the homeless, people with AIDS, people with substance abuse problems, etc., I am also sickened by the arrogant sense that as human beings we have “dominion” over other creatures, and therefore have the right to subject them to suffering and death for profit, entertainment, or just because we can.  Either way, to put it bluntly, it’s bullshit.)

Thank you for your continued patience with my self-righteous rants.  I will get back to my regularly scheduled posts about the book anon.

Here’s the article, which is entitled “Teach Your Children”:

The Two New Poems

As I mentioned in the previous post, these are the first two poems I’ve written in years.  I don’t have titles for them yet; if I manage to continue (it feels very strange to write poetry again), they will be part of a series.


Place alone. Stallion

blinking fire and you


lion of your time,

made to wander through.


Place alone.

Cogent wisdom

of a dawn, fields ripe

and ruby still,

christening of distant mist.


Place alone.  In swells

beyond the core of night,

I watch you lead your horse

away, instances of light

cast through an ocean of change.


Place alone, but still

you whisper to me as I watch.



Still, the mirror of the lake.  A desert swim.

Dodging ravens

at the center of the sky.


Barren field where stones are split

for food.  The urges to abstain, and nothing

far from you, fueled by anger to the edge

and startled there, a sparrow

falling through.


Your water grace disturbs the fish, blind

and wrestling currents, their mouths

turned upward to receive you.


Spiral sky that drinks you

up and spills you down to turn again

toward the house from where your mother calls,

her dishes thrown

against the wall, her dishes set out always

by a fisted hand.


(c) Nancy Bevilaqua 2013


In Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, there are six poems that I wrote about David in the mid 1990’s.  They were, I believe, the first poems I’d written in several years, and I don’t think I wrote very many, if any, other ones until just a few months ago.

Although I attended NYU’s M.A. program in Creative Writing/Poetry (typically for me at the time, I never actually wrote the thesis), and used to run around Manhattan wearing black and doing poetry readings, and aspired greatly for many years to becoming a “famous poet” (and of course it would be pointless to be anything but a hard-living, tragic one), I always secretly felt that I was a bit of a fraud–there was very little poetry that I actually liked, and I tended to prefer fiction (and photography, and painting).  But people seemed to like what I wrote, and I’ve always been a sucker for compliments, so for a long time I kept at it.

I composed my first poem in Provincetown, Massachusetts when I was about six or seven. I remember that my mother and I were playing Scrabble on the beach when the inspiration hit me.  It went like this:


Cape Cod is the place to be.

It is the place for me.

I like it because we go fishing there, 

but I hate the smell of the sea air.

OK–I did get somewhat better at it as the years went by.  The poem, as I recall, led to my first experience of censorship.  I brought it in that fall to my first-grade class.  The teacher seemed to like it a great deal, and she wrote it out for the rest of the class to see on a big easel at the front of the room.  However, she insisted on changing the word “hate” to “can’t stand.”  I believe that I was at least slightly outraged.  It totally blew the meticulously worked-out meter, for one thing.

Since publishing (finally) Holding Breath, I’ve been a little at a loss as to what to do with myself creatively. With some encouragement from my new friend David Biddle (who, like me, attended Reed College, and who is the author of the astonishingly creative and possibly life-changing–particularly for music-lovers–novel, Beyond the Will of God: A Jill Simpson Mystery), I wrote two new poems a couple of months ago.  I will probably post them here soon, but in the meantime I thought I’d send y’all to another blog of mine in which at one point a few years ago I managed to post many of the poems I’d written up until that point (there’s also the text of a letter I wrote to President Obama about needle-exchange funding; it seemed to be in keeping with the themes of some of the poems).  Some of the poems from Holding Breath are included.  Here’s the link:

I’ll be interested in hearing how you think they compare to the “Cape Cod” poem. 🙂

David Biddle’s book, Beyond the Will of God: A Jill Simpson Mystery, is available here:

My memoir, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, is available here:

On to Better Things

I really do try to spend as little time as possible online (no, really–I do), and for that reason it’s rare that I read others’ blogs.  No doubt I’m missing a lot of good stuff, but I do like to try to get outside and do other things from time to time.

However, a few weeks ago I got a “Like” on this blog, and, although I usually don’t take the time to do so, something told me to take a look at the blog that belongs to the person who did the “Liking.”  (I still find this business of “liking,” “friending,” etc., a little ridiculous, but that’s beside the point.)

What I found was one of the most worthwhile uses of blog-space that I’ve ever seen.  The blog, which is called, “Gotta Find a Home” (, is written by a man named Dennis Cardiff, who has befriended (and by that I mean that he has become a true friend to them–it’s clear that he loves and respects them as they deserve to be loved and respected) a group of homeless people where he lives.  His posts are simply records of the daily conversations he has with them when he visits with them.  Through him, we see their struggles, their sense of humor, their failings (failings no worse than those of anyone else), their hopes.  Mr. Cardiff neither condescends to nor attempts to make heroes of his friends.  He simply sees them, loves them, and–most importantly–lets them know that he really cares about them as they are.  He doesn’t try to “save” anyone (although I’m certain that if one of them asked for his help with something he would easily give it), and he doesn’t try to convert anyone.

Here’s a quote from his introduction to “Gotta Find a Home”:

I can’t do much for these people except to show them love, compassion, an ear to listen, perhaps a breakfast sandwich and a coffee. I would like to do more. To know them is to love them. What has been seen cannot be unseen.

When I lived in New Jersey, I became good friends with a number of the homeless people in Hoboken.  When I had some money, I would give them some of it, or buy them something to eat (I am not congratulating myself for this; for whatever reason, it always makes me really happy to do so, and I always say a little prayer of thanks for being given the opportunity). But very often we would just talk for a while.  I would ask about how they were doing; they would tell me stories from their lives before they became homeless, or ask about how my son was.  Sometimes we just made jokes and talked about whatever insanity was going on in the world at the time.  On many occasions one or several of them would cheer me up when I was having a bad time, and offer advice.  I moved away over three years ago, and I still miss all of them–really miss them.

Of course, my relationship with David (the man I loved and lost to AIDS in 1990–the man about whom I wrote Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days) probably has something to do with my feelings about people who are homeless.  He had been homeless for a short time before I met him.  I suppose I always see him in the other people I’ve met who are on the street, and it’s easy to apply the love I had for him to them.  And when I hear about a person like Dennis Cardiff, who would have been a real friend to David too, it makes me happy–really happy.

I hope you’ll visit Dennis’ blog.  As far as role-models go (at least as far as I can tell from reading his blog), you can’t do much better.

The “Ethics” of Pigeon-Racing and “Dove” Release–Follow-Up

I made a serious mistake in thinking that I could post the previous post about pigeon-racing and dove-release on the site I recommended in it (Pigeon-Talk), and that people might simply give the matter some more thought.  What I didn’t understand is that the majority (or at least the most vocal members) of the site either participates in those activities, or condones them. (Several members, however, either privately or in public posts told me that they feel the same way I do about it, or that pigeon-racing gives other people who simply keep pigeons without putting them in harm’s way a bad name.  Now I understand why they were so reluctant to mention that on the site.)

I was accused of being “cruel” to birds myself,  and told that my post was “melodramatic bull-crap”. One member suggested that I “spew” to PETA about my utterly absurd suggestion that it might be cruel to send domesticated birds hundreds of miles away and simply hope that they make it back without getting lost, getting attacked or killed by predators, starving, dying of exhaustion, etc.  Then the thread was closed because of the “manner I used to express my opinion.”

Just now I looked up how much the prizes for pigeon-racing can be.  I’d been thinking that they were probably quite small, if anything. However, it seems that the owners of “winning” (not missing or dead) pigeons can potentially win thousands of dollars.  I think I now understand the source of all the vitriol against me a little better…

Here’s MY bottom line–you can tell me all you want about how much you “care about” and even “love” your birds. But if you know that you’re potentially putting them in danger of real suffering, and possibly death, by sending them out to race (or to “celebrate” an occasion), and yet you do it anyway, I find it a little hard to believe you.  If I love someone or something (or even if I don’t), I’d rather tear my eyes out than put him or her in harm’s way.

Here’s the thread, in case you’re interested in reading about the reactions people had to my post: 

Watching the racing pigeon I found a few days ago die a horrible death made me incredibly sad.  The fact that these “bird lovers” refuse to even entertain the idea that racing and release are cruel ways to make money only makes it that much worse.

Oh, and please pardon my “melodramatic bull-crap.”  That’s just how I roll, I guess… 

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