Grief and Gardening: Index

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY, April 2021
Next Tuesday, September 20th, I will be the guest speaker for Green-Wood Cemetery’s Death Cafe. Next week is also Climate Week; the topic is “Grief and Gardening”, that title taken from the long-running series of blog posts here.

Listed below are my related blog posts, grouped by topic. For now, I’m omitting all the eulogies and remembrances for the deaths of family, friends, and pets.

Grief and Gardening: Ashes (Remembrance Day for Lost Species), published 2019-12-02, is one of my favorite writings on the subject of grief. It weaves together nearly all the topics below.

Biodiversity Loss

Remembrance Day for Lost Species Day, aka Lost Species Day, is November 30th. Many of these blog posts are on or near that date.

Grief and Gardening: Extinct Plants of northern North America 2021, 2021-11-30
Extinct Plants of northern North America 2020, 2020-11-30
Extinct Plants of northern North America 2018, 2018-11-30
Extinct Plants of northern North America 2015, 2015-11-29
Extinct Plants of northern North America, 2014-11-30

Climate Change

The IPCC Report: Grief & Gardening #6, 2007-02-04


Grief and Gardening: A Dissetling Spring, 2020-03-19
Drumbeat, 2020-03-27
Grief and Gardening: A Feast of Losses, 2020-04-06
Correspondence, April 2020, 2020-04-13
Grief and Gardening: The Defiant Gardener, 2020-05-06

I adapted some of what I wrote on the blog, and several of my tweets on this subject, for a short post on McSweeney’s: “Do Not Deny What You Feel“. The McSweeney’s piece was later picked up by YES! Magazine. Search for “Flatbush”. or “AIDS”.


Grief and Gardening: 20 Years, 2021-09-11
Grief and Gardening: Remains of the Day, 2019-07-11
Grief & Gardening: Nine Years, 2010-09-11
Seven years, 2008-09-10
In the Shadow (How shall my heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?), 2007-08-08
Grief & Gardening #2: Five Years After, “Ths Transetorey Life”, 2006-09-09
Grief & Gardening #1: 1, 5 and 25, 2006-09-04
Without God, 2001-10-15
This Week in History, 2001-09-14


Names, 2021-12-01 (World AIDS Day)
Off-Topic: The Conversation: 2016-03-12 (on Nancy Reagan’s death)
In the Shadow (How shall my heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?), 2007-08-08


2006-10-08: Grief & Gardening #3: Nihilism and Squirrels

Gardening Matters: The death of Takeo Shiota (Grief & Gardening #4), 2006-10-29
The Daffodil Project: Grief & Gardening #5, 2006-11-26< Continue reading


2022-12-01 (World AIDS Day): Added more Related Content links.

2022-09-20: Where available, added locations of panels in the AIDS Quilt.

Book Cover, "The AIDS Epidemic," 1983, anthology of a NYC symposium

These are some of the people, all men, I have lost over the years, nearly all to AIDS. With the exceptions of those additions noted, I stopped actively maintaining this list in 1994. In alphabetical order.

  • William “Wolf” Agress, a lover, died in 1990
  • Andre, a bartender at the Tunnel Bar in the East Village, now defunct
  • Vincent Barnes
  • Jerry Bihm
  • Bobby
  • Colin Curran
  • Erez Dror, co-owner and -founder of the Black Hound Bakery in the East Village, New York City, now defunct (AIDS Quilt Block )
  • Jeffrey “Jeff” Glidden, 1958-1987, a lover (AIDS Quilt Blocks and )
  • Paul “Griff” Griffin
  • Martin Noel Jorda
  • David Kirschenbaum, 1962-1993, community organizer with the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project
  • Art “Artie” Kohn, 1947-1991, founder of the BackRoom BBS in New York City, now defunct (AIDS Quilt Block )
  • John Larsen, a lover, died 2007 (Added 2021-12-01)
  • Jim Lewis
  • Luis
  • John Mangano, 1955-1991 (AIDS Quilt Block )
  • Jeffrey Martin
  • Morris Matthews
  • David Mayer (Added 2021-12-01)
  • Karl Michalak, 1958-1997
  • Mark Melvin, 1962-08-27 – 1992-06-03 (AIDS Quilt Block )
  • Norm
  • Tony Panico, my first lover in New York City, and the first person close to me to die from AIDS. His name appears twice on the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the first on Panel 05A when it was displayed in 1988. (AIDS Quilt Blocks and )
  • Charles Pope, barfly extraordinaire
  • Gordon Provencher, 1955-1992 (AIDS Quilt Block )
  • Tom Raleigh
  • Craig Rodwell, 1940-1993, founder of the Oscar Wilde Bookstore in Greenwich Village, NYC
  • Tony Rostron
  • Jurgen Schmitt
  • Giulio Sorrentino
  • Buddy Volani
  • Jeremy Wells
  • David Joseph Wilcox, 1957-1996

Tony's Quilt

Most of these men – including three of my ex-lovers – died before I was 35 years old. (A fourth died in 2007.) There are countless scores, hundreds, more whose names I did not know, whose fates I never learned, or who died since I stopped maintaining this list in 1994.

Related Content

Grief and Gardening: Ashes (Remembrance Day for Lost Species), 2019-12-02 One Score Years Ago, 2016-01-21
An earlier edition of this list: Names, World AIDS Day, 2009-12-01
David Joseph Wilcox, 1957-1996, 2008-01-22
In the Shadow (How shall my heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?), 2007-08-28
Back in the Day, about the Backroom BBS, my first online community, in the 1980s.
Grief & Gardening #1: 1, 5 and 25, 2006-09-04


NY Times Obituary for David Kirschenbaum (PAYWALLED)
Wikipedia: Craig Rodwell
Reagan’s AIDS Legacy / Silence equals death, Allen White, SFGate, 2004-06-08, following Ronald Reagan’s death

World AIDS Day

Grief and Gardening: The Defiant Gardener

Rhododendron periclymenoides, pinxterbloom azalea, blooming in the backyard, May 2020

Normally, this time of year would be busy with garden tours, workshops, talks and lectures, plant swaps and sales. In past years, my garden has been on tour for NYC Wildflower Week. Two years ago I spoke at the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference in Millersville, Pennsylvania. Last June I hosted the most recent of my Pollinator Safaris in my garden.

I had multiple engagements planned for this Spring, and into the Summer. I was going to speak on a panel about pollinators in NYC. This past weekend would have been the 10th Anniversary of the Great Flatbush Plant Swap, of which I was one of the founders. I would have been doing hands-on workshops on gardening with native plants in community gardens.

This year there is none of that. The reason, of course, is the global pandemic, COVID-19, caused by the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV2.

As I write this, I have been working from home for 8 weeks. The same week I started working from home, the first death from COVID-19 was recorded in New York City. Now, less than 2 months later, nearly 20,000 are dead.

We still have 200 dying every day. This is not anywhere near “over”.

The language and lessons of trauma – and recovery – are what we need to embrace right now.

Unavoidably, for me, have been the parallels with the AIDS epidemic. Unparalleled disparities in wealth built over decades, and systemic racism sustained over centuries, ensure that the epidemic does not affect all equally. A corrupt administration targets those it considers its enemies, cynically allowing who oppose it to die, a deliberate genocide.

In March of 1996, I had just started reading Walt Odets’ “In the Shadow of the Epidemic: Being HIV-Negative in the Age of AIDS”, the first book I read which gave voice to feelings shared by many of my cohort, gay men of a certain age: survivor guilt, and a spiritual crisis which has ravaged many of us. I wrote:

March 1996 

so far surviving
what will it mean to be alive
having outlived generation after generation
decades of death
the explosion widening until, finally
and yes, with some grim, righteous satisfaction
finally noone can truthfully say
they are not also affected

imagine how it will be
when your closest friends are strangers
when long ago you gave up hope
of growing old together
as everyone you’ve loved, and despised
has died, seven times over
when you’ve learned, and loved, and lost
and learned, loved, lost
and …
When each new friend is met with the knowledge
that they too will leave soon
but it no longer matters
because, you think, you’ve already grieved their deaths too

the corpses pile up
against the walls you’ve built around yourself
walking along familiar streets
past the bars, your old haunts
you see tombstones, crosses, ashes
and you’re not safe, even in your own mind
especially at night
when the walls must come down
and you must remember the dead

you want to believe you’ve come so far
but it hasn’t even begun

This is where we are – where we all are – now. Our bodies cannot physically sustain for months on end our initial response to the sudden changes we experienced with the epidemic. When we must survive, even against a low-level persistent threat, our brains rewire themselves. We are collectively immersed in what is aptly called endurance trauma.

But I feel no satisfaction from it.

I am grateful that both my husband and I are able to work from home. We continue to adapt, in both large and subtle ways, to being forced to be around each other nearly constantly.

For my part, I take advantage of every good weekend day, and long daylight hours, to garden as much and as long as I can. I have been removing non-native plants – mostly the Iris and daylilies – to make room for planting more native plants. And, for the first time in years, to grow some food crops.

Since there would be no Great Flatbush Plant Swap this year, I decided to give away the plants as I removed them. I have been giving away plants from my own garden for weeks, now. While my initial intent was to solve a problem I had in my garden, it’s turned into much more.

I’m having conversations with neighbors and passersby, checking in with each other about how we are handling the situation. These visits often turn into mini garden tours and educational talks about how to garden for habitat, inviting even more life to co-reside with us, healing the urban ecology as we nourish our own connections to the natural world.

The Front Yard, May 2020

Whatever green people can grow sustains them psychologically. These new “victory gardens” are a form of defiant gardening, which Kenneth Helphand so beautifully wrote about in his book of the same title. It is a way of coping with, and defying, endurance trauma.

The following comes from an open latter I wrote on October 15, 2001, barely a month after the September 11 attacks, to Joanna Tipple, then pastor of the Craryville and Copake Churches in New York State.

As I tend my garden, I recall how it was a minute, a day, a year ago. That flower was, or was not, blooming yesterday. This plant has grown over the years and now crowds its neighbors. A label in the ground shows where another plant has vanished. Should I replace it, or try something new? I weed. I plant. I water. I sit. The garden asks me to see it as it really is, not just how I remember it, or how I wish it to be. Gardening continues to teach me many lessons. Gardening is my prayer.

So I must be in the world. Remembering what was. Observing what is. Hoping for what can be. Acting to bring it into being. When we struggle to understand, we question what is. Science can ask, and eventually answer, “What?” and “How?” It cannot answer the one question that matters, the question for which Man created God: “Why?” Now, as with each new loss, I ask again: Why am I here? Why am I alive?

The only answer I’ve come across which satisfies me at all comes from Zen: The purpose of life is to relieve suffering. Not to relieve pain, or grief, or loss. These cannot be avoided. But to relieve suffering, which we ourselves bring into the world. Because death is senseless, the only sense to be found is that which we manifest in our own lives. The only meaning there can be in life is what we impart.

Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi holocaust, wrote “What is to give light must endure burning.” Light doesn’t justify burning. Light transcends burning.

We are enduring, now. Whether we know it or not. Whether we acknowledge what we feel, or not. We must also do more than endure. How we celebrate ourselves transcends what we must endure and survive. It serves only our enemies – and serves us least of all – to be polite, nice, and “normal,” to be unassuming and inoffensive, to be silent and invisible.

Illustration by Enkhbayar Munkh-Erdene for YES! Magazine, from a self-portrait I took of myself in my backyard.

Related Content

NYC in the time of COVID-19

2020-04-06: Grief and Gardening: A Feast of Losses
2020-04-13: Correspondence, April 2020

I adapted some of what I wrote on the blog, and several of my tweets on this subject, for a short post on McSweeney’s: “Do Not Deny What You Feel“. The McSweeney’s piece was later picked up by YES! Magazine. Search for “Flatbush”. or “AIDS”.

Grief & Gardening Series
  1. 2006-09-04: Grief & Gardening #1: 1, 5 and 25
  3.  2006-10-08: Grief & Gardening #3: Nihilism and Squirrels

    and the most recent additions:

Other relevant blog posts



2020-04-21: The McSweeney’s piece was picked up by YES! Magazine. Search for “Flatbush”. or “AIDS”.
2020-03-30: I adapted some of this blog post, and several of my tweets on this subject, for a short post on McSweeney’s:
Do Not Deny What You Feel
2020-03-29: Updated

As a child, even as I watched rockets launch from my bedroom window, the news kept us apprised of the ever-rising (American) casualties from the Vietnam War. As an adolesecent, I was fascinated and appalled by old issues of LIFE magazine published during World War II. Every article, every ad, devoted to the war. That terrified me the most: that there was no escape from it.

That’s where we are: at war.

Just like those WW2 LIFE magazines, there is no escape from the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s in every segment on every news program, every article on every front page, the constant crawl across the bottom of the screen. We get the latest numbers: how many sick, how many dead. We get the unprecedented numbers of people out of work, their workplaces shutdown in efforts to contain the spread.

Yesterday, the U.S. surpassed China as the country with the largest number of confirmed cases. New York City has 1/4th of them. Within days, every hospital bed in NYC will be saturated with COVID-19 patients. Beyond that, overall death rates will rapidly increase, as otherwise survivable conditions become fatal due to lack of medical facilities.

This is all so familiar.

I moved to NYC, to the East Village, in 1979. Just in time for the AIDS epidemic. We endured as the numbers went from a handful, to scores, hundreds, thousands, tens and hundreds of thousands. We lived and loved in fear for ourselves, our community, our way of life. We worried about every little cough, every blemish, every lump or swelling, both in ourselves, and others. We lived and loved in anger at the cruelty and incompetence of a federal administration that cared nothing about us, and killed us through their indifference and inaction.

It’s all so familiar. It feels the same now, but the pace and scale have been multiplied by a thousand.


[Shortly after midnight]

I need to acknowledge what I’m feeling before I try to sleep tonight:

Endurance trauma is real.

I survived the dark 15 years of AIDS as a death sentence. That trauma is reactivated, living in NYC, the middle of the worst of COVID19.

The situation in NYC is horrific, and is only going to get worse over the next two weeks, at least. All NYC hospital beds, ICU and others, are saturated by #COVID19 patients: 6,000 hospitalized, 1,300 in ICU. 222 people died yesterday. Just the day before, 85 people had died.

So, yeah, I’m having some feelings. And that’s how we get through this: by feeling it. The only way out is through.

It’s real. And it’s scary. Leave room for yourself and others to feel what they need, to grieve, to rage, to despair.

That’s how we keep going: Together.

Related Content



Social Distancing

New York City

New York State

United States
A live, continually updated version of the map above.

The data for the map comes from here:

For “reasons”, there’s little trustworthy federal information available. The CDC is still the official source of stats.

Global, and you can select a country, and drill-down to more local figures, e.g.: states for the U.S.

This site has visualizations world-wide and by country, and you can download the data for your own analysis:

Also allows you to drill down to country level.

Grief and Gardening: Ashes (Remembrance Day for Lost Species)

Detail, label, "Our Lady of Abundance," inside lid

My alarm wakes me Saturday morning. I go downstairs to the kitchen, nuke myself a cup of coffee, and get a fresh batch going. I didn’t sleep well. Today is the Remembrance Day for Lost Species.

I start prepping my mother’s breakfast. I put some orange juice in her small cup, and add some thickener, probiotic, and her liquid medications. I start working on crushing her morning pills. Each of the half dozen takes a different approach. Some crush easily. Others need to be split first.

Their remains collect in the well of the crusher. The easier ones are reduced to dust. The harder ones leave grit, and small, sharp shards.

A black cat with one spot on her chest, like a priest’s collar, finds me in my garden. She adopts me immediately. I name her “Spot”. She dies in my arms as we try to find the veterinarian emergency room in a snowstorm.

We bring her home in a small tin. Inside the tin is a bag. We transfer it to a reliquary box, an artwork of hammered copper, beads, and glass.

She carries me through 15 years of recovery, reconnecting, and relationship. She comforts the man whom I would later marry through his mother’s dying, and death.

The bag doesn’t quite fit the box. I want to rearrange it. It’s my first time handling cremated remains. I open the bag. Its contents are not what I expect. They are not ash. They are crumbs, and grit, and shards of bone, chalky and white. It’s all that’s left of her.

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day. My partners, my lovers, my friends, my neighbors. I think of the photo one friend took of another, spreading his dead lover’s ashes from a plastic baggie – before he died – on their property in the Catskills. The images of ashes thrown over the White House fence. A sea of quilts, holding the names of my partners, my lovers, my friends, my neighbors, so scattered across the acres of battlefield, it takes hours to visit them all.

We are traveling upstate, our first real vacation together. Everywhere we go the mood is quiet, subdued. Whereever we go, people ask where we’re visiting from. When we tell them, their eyes well up.

I walk to and from work. The streets and gutters are filled with ash. It takes months for the rains to wash it all away.

We step out of the shop. I ask him to wait. I walk back inside. I return to where I saw the box. Its title is “Our Lady of Abundance”. I buy it for the meaning the word has for him. It goes to his apartment, then our apartment, then our home. Waiting.

I am standing in a mountain river, cold over my feet and legs. I am here for my father. I am here with my father. I take the small, ornate bronze container out of my pocket. I open it, and begin releasing its contents to the wind and water. It’s not what you expect: They are not ash. They are crumbs, grit, shards of bone. Tomorrow is the anniversary of his death. It’s all that’s left of him. I am here for my father.

It is Lost Species Day. We are burning the remains of countless organisms. Even long dead, we could not let them be. We are burning the world.

In the Catskills we watched the towers fall, again, and again, a hundred miles away. Where I bought a box of hammered copper, beads, and glass to give to a man to mark a relationship that arose out of deeply shared loss, like a phoenix, from ashes.

Related Content

Standing Still in 2018


Off-Topic: The Conversation

I moved to NYC the first weekend of 1979. By Spring, I had moved to the East Village, an epicenter of what was first called “gay cancer,” then “Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease,” or GRID. Four years later, by 1983 – the year of the symposium that led to this anthology – it was being called AIDS.
Book Cover, "The AIDS Epidemic," 1983, anthology of a NYC symposium

As of mid-April 1983, 1,339 people have been diagnosed as having AIDS. Five hundred and five cases were fatal. In New York City alone, there have been 595 cases, with 228 deaths. But even as the disaster escalated, the organized medical community was strangely absent. When a fatal infection had struck down veterans [34 deaths] attending an American Legion convention [1976, Philadelphia], health professionals around the country joined in the search for a solution [later identified as Legionella]. When women using tampons became ill with toxic shock syndrome [1980, though TSS was first described in 1978], medical societies and research centers immediately focused their enormous talents on the problem. But when the victims were drug addicts and poor Haitian refugees and homosexual men, their plight did not, somehow, seem as significant to those expected to speak for the health professions. No major research programs were announced, and until it became clear that the disease would spread to the general population through blood transfusions, organized medicine seemed part of the curious conspiracy of silence.

– “Preface: The Evolution of an Epidemic” by Kevin M. Cahill, M.D., editor, “The AIDS Epidemic”

Yesterday, there was this:

It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s, and because of both President and Mrs. Reagan — in particular Mrs. Reagan — we started a national conversation, when before nobody would talk about it, nobody wanted to do anything about it, and that, too, is something I really appreciate with her very effective low-key advocacy. It penetrated the public conscience and people began to say, “Hey, we have to do something about this too.”
– Hilary Clinton, speaking to MSNBC at Nancy Reagan’s funeral, 2016-03-11

“Started a national conversation” my ass. Neighbors, friends, boyfriends, lovers died around me. My community was being expunged. We were all expendable people. I knew exactly what was going on – they WANTED us to die.

Update, 2016-03-13: Late on Saturday, after I wrote this post, Hillary Clinton apologized for her apology, and her original “mis-spokement”.

Related Content

Grief & Gardening #1: 1, 5 and 25, 2006-09-04
In the Shadow (How shall my heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?), 2007-08-28
David Joseph Wilcox, 1957-1996, 2008-01-22
Names, World AIDS Day, 2009-12-01
One Score Years Ago, 2016-01-21


Reagan’s AIDS Legacy / Silence equals death, Allen White, SFGate, 2004-06-08, following Ronald Reagan’s death

One Score Years Ago

David Joseph Wilcox at Wigstock in Union Square, early 1990s. Scan from original slide, date unrecorded.
David Joseph Wilcox - Wigstock, Union Square

20 years ago, on January 22, 1996, my friend, David Joseph Wilcox, died from AIDS.

The last time I saw him was December 12, 1995. I wrote this on my return trip home on the F train back to Brooklyn from the East Village.

Was this the last time I saw you? I want to remember every moment of it, some muse of the eidetic ideal supply my memory for later recounting, to remember you perfectly.

As we leave your building you pause, press your hand against the brick wall, to steady yourself. “Are you okay?” I ask stupidly. Of course you’re not okay. But it comes out this way, my helpless wish that you not suffer more.

Your body answers, first with a contraction, from abdomen to shoulders, then a convulsion. Then I hear the weak, airless gagging sounds, you standing there shaking, retching, overcome by waves of nausea, unable to breathe.

Your body doesn’t understand you haven’t been able to eat for weeks because of the Kaposi’s which lines your throat, the infections which coat your mouth and tongue. Finally, a thin, clear gruel passes your lips, as your stomach offers up the little water you drank an hour ago, mixed with some mucous perhaps from your throat and mouth.

This repeats in another five feet.

And again, but now you lean on a part of the low chain fence which separates the frozen ground from the concrete of the entrance plaza.

Another five steps you sit down on the ledge of the steps. It’s bitterly cold out. In five minutes we’ve traveled 20 feet.

Story Corps booth in the PATH station at Ground Zero, January 22, 2006.
The StoryCorps booth in the PATH station at the World Trade Center/Ground Zero, 2006-01-22

In 2006, on the 10th anniversary of his death, my then-partner/now-husband, John, and I went to StoryCorps at Ground Zero to interview each other about our friend. Here are two short segments from that mutual interview.

The first, “Phoenix,” describes how John and I came together, and our current relationship developed, after Dave’s death.

The second, “Loss, Grief, and Remembrance,” is from the end of our recording time that day.

I cannot over-emphasize his importance to each of us as we shared our lives together, nor how his death transformed us. I still miss him, in part because he is not here to bear witness what we have become, each in ourselves, and together in this third entity. Though he might never admit more than his wry smile you see in the photo that opens this post, I believe he would be pleased.

I wrote the following on the F train on my way to visit him that day, not knowing it would be the last time. Because it’s out of sequence, it feels somewhat false, even trite, to place it here. However, reading it now, 20 years later, it rings surprisingly true. So I end with this.

Only in the midst
of disorder, of chaos,
complexity arises.
Life is born
in the womb of entropy.

As I survive,
outlive the scores,
who still guide me,
direct and indirect.
Accumulating the weight of these losses,
I carry this chaos forward
into the future.
But no longer will I see
dry crust around me,
scorched of life.
With my hands,
my heart,
my hope,
I create fertile earth as my ground.

Related Content

David Joseph Wilcox, 1957-1996, 2008-01-22
Full 45-minute StoryCorps recording


Hope Blooms

Part of Garden Bloggers Buffa10, Buffalo, NY, July 2010

Hope Blooms, The Victorian, 200 South Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, New York
The Victorian, 200 South Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY

Like Cary Street, The Victorian, at 200 South Elmwood Avenue, is also located just around the corner from the Buffa10 hotel. It’s one of the headquarters for Garden Walk Buffalo. It’s also one of the homes of AIDS Community Services of Western New York. Hidden behind the building is Hope Blooms, “a garden by, and for, people living with HIV/AIDS.”

A complete volunteer effort, “Hope Blooms” was built as a unique garden “by and for” those living with HIV/AIDS. Having been featured in a full page photo in the Garden Walk Buffalo Book, it is recognized as one of Buffalo’s significantly beautiful gardens. Christopher Voltz, ACS’ Director of Marketing and Special projects volunteers his weekends, all summer long, to build and maintain this garden.

Clients and patients help plant the garden and its flowers are used to supply fresh bouquets of flowers to client services areas in our offices every week.

This simple gesture is greatly appreciated by ACS’ clients and patients. It is ACS’ belief that a warm and welcoming environment for its clients is of great importance. Whether one is living with cancer, diabetes or HIV disease, everyone deserves to be treated with the utmost respect. These bouquets and this garden are simple ways to demonstrate this to the thousands of individuals and families we serve.


Related Content

Flickr set


Hope Blooms, AIDS Community Services of Western New York
Garden Walk Buffalo
Garden Bloggers Buffa10

David Joseph Wilcox, 1957-1996

Update 2008.01.23: Added brief history of the Pink Panthers and bibliography of articles from the New York Times.

The jacket I wore while on patrol with the Pink Panthers in 1990 and 1991
Pink Panther Patrol Jacket, 1990-1991

My friend, David Joseph Wilcox, died 12 years ago, on January 22, 1996. He was 38 years old.

I’m actually writing this late at night, early in the morning of January 23. I can’t sleep. I’ve post-dated this to January 22, Dave’s mortiversary. We’ll see if Blogger accepts it. [It did.]

Earlier this evening, I listened to a recording my partner, Blog Widow John, and I made, interviewing each other about our remembrances of Dave. Two years ago, on the 10th anniversary of his death, we went to the StoryCorps booth at the World Trade Center site – Ground Zero – in downtown Manhattan. In particular, we spoke about how Dave’s death brought us closer together.

Dave moved in with John for the last year of his life. For many reason, it was a trying time for John, even apart from Dave’s illness. When Dave died, John reached out to me, as someone who knew both of them for many years, for support. Though we had already known each other for over a decade, that was the beginning of greater intimacy between us than we had ever shared. Our relationship today arose, phoenix-like, out of our shared loss.

When I can figure out how to edit down the full 45 minutes we recorded into more manageable tracks and cohesive segments, I’ll be able to make them available. What follows is the full text of the eulogy I wrote and read at one of Dave’s memorial services. I have a VHS videotape of that which could be transcribed to digital video, but I can hardly be understood in it. I could barely speak.

In Memoriam: David Joseph Wilcox
b. 15 November 1957, d. 22 January 1996

  1. Prologue
  2. Gay Cancer
  3. Scapegoats
  4. Grace
  5. Panthers

1. Prologue

I’ll start with a letter.

There remained to me at least something salvaged from the wreck of last year: a most brilliant man, and … one great in action and counsel … who after numerous proofs of his virtue became very dear to me, and seemed worthy of your friendship as well as mine. … [displaying] loyalty and good fellowship, and that friendship which lies in sharing good and bad fortune and baring the hidden places of the heart in a trusting exchange of secrets. How much he loved you, how much he longed to see you – you whom he could see only with the eyes of imagination. How much he worried about your safety during this shipwreck of the world. I was amazed that a man unknown to him could be so much loved. … And this man (I speak it with many tears, and would speak it with more but my eyes are drained by previous misfortunes and I should save some tears for whatever may befall in the future), this man, I say, was suddenly seized by the pestilence which is now ravaging the world. This was at dusk, after dinner with his friends, and the evening hours that remained he spent talking with us, reminiscing about our friendship and shared concerns. He passed the night in extreme pain, which he endured with an undaunted spirit, and then died suddenly the next morning. None of the now-familiar horrors were abated …

Go, mortals, sweat, pant, toil, range the lands and seas to pile up riches you cannot keep; glory that will not last. The life we lead is a sleep; whatever we do, dreams. Only death breaks the sleep and wakes us from dreaming. I wish I could have woken before this.

– Written by Francesco Petrarch to Louis Heyligen, in May 1349, during the Black Death in Europe.

2. Gay Cancer

I moved to New York, to the East Village, in the winter of 1979. When I met Dave a few years later, maybe 12 years ago [at the time of this writing in 1996], he was a vulture. Actually, I saw him dressed as a vulture in some incomprehensible show at La Mama. I knew the stage manager, and I met Dave after the show at the closing party. First impressions: short, wiry, blue eyes, intelligent. I was in love. But we became friends anyway.

When I moved to New York, I moved into the middle, into the beginning, of an epidemic that would become a pandemic, though I didn’t know it. Nobody knew it. First, it was “gay cancer.” Then it was GRID – Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease. Several hundred deaths later, late summer 1982, it became AIDS. Seventeen years of now-familiar horrors, of struggling to reconcile my denial, panic, rage, guilt, helplessness and despair.

September 1991:

I cry, yet I’ve not suffered enough.
Who suffers more, the dying or the living?
I grieve, yet I am not angry enough.
I am too weak, too self-absorbed, too numb.
I am cruel enough to avoid an ex-lover on his deathbed,
yet angered by the deliberate avoidance of another.
I choose ignorance before responsibility,
running from the chance of knowing,
and feeling.

It doesn’t stop.
It doesn’t wait for me to catch up,
to get my life in order,
that I might face loss with strength and conviction.
So far surviving the holocaust of my peers,
I make nothing of my life that would honor their passing.

And it continues … it goes on, and on …

After all that has happened,
it is only the beginning,
always just the beginning,
ever new horrors stand in front of me,
invisibly in the future,
that I might stumble across them.

Still I can ask: why?

3. Scapegoats

Dave and I developed a friendship whose continuity endured despite long absences. We’d not see each other or speak for months, or years. Then he’d call me with a new phone number, or we’d bump into each other at a bar, and pick up where we left off. And that’s what I was looking forward to when, after another long absence, I called him this past December, to see if he’d received my invitation to a holiday party. He said it was good that I called. “I’ve been telling myself, I really should call Chris …” Three months ago, I hadn’t known he’d been sick. I didn’t know he was dying.

One of the ways I’ve responded to AIDS is to read: about viruses, the natural history of disease, historical plagues and epidemics, their human impact … During the Black Death of the 14th century, Christians accused Jews of poisoning wells and rivers. Some Jews “confessed” under torture, or were baptized. The others were tortured, killed, and burned, in fields and open pits, in their synagogues and homes, or in buildings constructed for this special purpose.

While AIDS has its own scapegoats, with so-called leaders of all religions denouncing them, little has changed in 650 years. There is no god who has delivered AIDS to “punish” me, my friends, my lovers, my family of choice, my community. Sex is not a sin, my love is not a disorder. There are no “innocent victims.”

April 1992:

how many voices have you silenced?
whose truth do you fear?

what sends you running for shelter in your god’s shadow,
clinging to the hem of his rotten shrouds,
praying to him for the bad words to stop?

your ignorance is vile

you would see me struck down
silence my voice, my truth
to preserve your fragile ballast of lies

preaching vainly of greater good
you bring greater harm

there isn’t room enough in hell for both of us

you go first

4. Grace

I believe that Dave came to find some faith, or re-discover his faith, in the community of the church where he worked. I want to honor that, but I admit I don’t understand it, and the only comfort it gives me is that Dave’s belief helped him. I don’t believe in a god, or a heaven, or any life after this one. This is it. Dave’s death is final. I’ll never see him again.

October 1994:


I’m not a holy man.
there are no gods.
the dead speak to us
only through their works.

sadness weighs her heavy lids.
though portrayed as another,
she is of this world.
shaped by your hands,
her lifeless face holds your grief.

loss beyond comprehension.
time only to bury, or burn –
the next wave overtakes you.

from your hunger to understand,
you carve icons of your faith.
out of numbing pain,
you create meaning where there is none.

is it such mystery,
that you would know how I felt?

[Note: “She” is a wooden statue I saw at the Cloisters in upper Manhattan. When I wrote the poem, I thought the statue was contemporaneous with the Black Death. In fact, the statue was from the 12th Century, at least 150 years earlier, a dark enough time on its own.]

5. Panthers

The summer of 1990, a series of violent attacks against lesbians and gay men galvanized the community. The Pink Panthers, a street patrol, formed in response. Dave and I were among the founders of the East Village branch of the Panthers. For me, this was the most intimate and satisfying period of our friendship. We strategized, organized, leafleted, trained and patrolled together. Although we joked about having big pink targets on our chests, we knew that when we were on the streets, we placed ourselves in danger. Of all my colleagues and comrades from the Panthers, I felt safest with Dave as my patrol buddy, side-by-side. I trusted him with my life.

No explanation can ever satisfy me. Dave’s death is senseless. His life has meaning. I miss him.

July 1993, after learning about the death of another friend, also named David [David Kirschenbaum]:

what would it mean
even to say goodbye
my words do not grant
another breath

searching for the grief
that must be felt
as I recall other men
other names

if I could let go
lose control
permit my tears
what would it change

it ends, it is final
no room for regrets
no hopes for another chance
it is over

helpless, in the face of death
living is the best revenge

Fight the fascists.
Celebrate life.
Never give up.

Notes on the Pink Panthers

The Pink Panthers operated from 1990 to 1991. After it was successfully sued by MGM for use of the name “Pink Panther”, the group changed its name to OutWatch, but by the end of 1991, the group was already fading. After 1991, it existed largely in name only and its assets were dissolved several years later.

A series of articles in the New York Times summarizes this history:

Streets of Sanctuary Now Harbor Criminals, August 6, 1990
Anti-Gay Attacks Increase And Some Fight Back, September 3, 1990
Gay Organization Sees Upsurge in Violence, October 19, 1990
Pink Panthers Sued by MGM, January 8, 1991
Gay Patrol And MGM In a Battle Over Name, May 27, 1991
Gay Group Can’t Call Itself Pink Panthers, October 5, 1991



David Kirschenbaum’s obituary in the New York Times, July 14, 1993. He was 30 years old.

In the Shadow (How shall my heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?)

Updated 2007.09.12: Added brief bio and link for Renee Barret-Arjune.

Haddadada the gargoyle stands watch behind the maple in my backyard.

I’d rather be writing about something else, but this presents itself right now. Better I write it while it’s fresh, and raw, and resist polishing the life from it.

Earlier this evening, I learned of the death of John Larsen, someone I knew from my old days in the East Village. We were neighbors, bar buddies, and, for a hot minute, boyfriends.

In March of 1996, I had just started reading Walt Odets‘ “In the Shadow of the Epidemic: Being HIV-Negative in the Age of AIDS“, the first book I read which gave voice to feelings shared by many of my cohort, gay men of a certain age: survivor guilt, and a spiritual crisis which has ravaged many of us. I wrote:

March 1996

so far surviving
what will it mean to be alive
having outlived generation after generation
decades of death
the explosion widening until, finally
and yes, with some grim, righteous satisfaction
finally noone can truthfully say
they are not also affected

imagine how it will be
when your closest friends are strangers
when long ago you gave up hope
of growing old together
as everyone you’ve loved, and despised
has died, seven times over
when you’ve learned, and loved, and lost
and learned, loved, lost
and …
When each new friend is met with the knowledge
that they too will leave soon
but it no longer matters
because, you think, you’ve already grieved their deaths too

the corpses pile up
against the walls you’ve built around yourself
walking along familiar streets
past the bars, your old haunts
you see tombstones, crosses, ashes
and you’re not safe, even in your own mind
especially at night
when the walls must come down
and you must remember the dead

you want to believe you’ve come so far
but it hasn’t even begun

I moved to Brooklyn in June of 1992. I’d lived 13 years in the East Village, in the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic. My move was neither well-planned nor well-executed. I knew I had to move. I didn’t know how important it would be to me for my survival, for my recovery. Though I could not surface the thought at that time, let alone voice it, I was also running, trying to run, away. I couldn’t face any more death.

January 25, 1994


glimpsed in a stranger’s gait
darting behind another’s mask
in that moment

for how long
must I never forget?

the epicenter
reaches to numbers inconceivable
my heart implodes

when darkness falls
how should I greet it

for a moment
I thought I saw you
but you left long ago

Reminders of the upcoming 6th Anniversary of 9/11 are piling up. My first day back at work from my North Carolina trip, I walked by the Deutsche Bank building – ruined in the attacks, condemned, and only now being dismantled – where two firefighters had lost their lives the day before. I could see the blackened scaffolding and walls of the building. I smelled the smoke, startled for a few minutes, taken back to the months after the attacks, when the fires burned for months, when we walked every day through the crematory of downtown Manhattan. I know – knew, met a handful of times – a woman, Renee Barret-Arjune, who died from injuries she received in the World Trade Center attacks. It’s how we measure our distance from such things: who we knew, how many, how close.

Earlier this summer, Eleanor Traubman of Creative Times gave me a little gem of a book, The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century of Life in the Garden. It’s by and about the poet, Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006), written with Genine Lentine and with photographs by Marnie Crawford Samuelson. When we met at the Flatbush meet-up, she recommended this book to me.

I’ve estimated that half of everyone I’ve ever known has already died: from AIDS, chemical dependence or overdose, or suicide. I should have expected to feel resonance with a centenarian gardener-poet writing at the end of his life. Here’s an excerpt from Kunitz’ “The Layers”:

When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.

Kunitz closes more hopefully:

no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

This evening, fresh with the news of a death of a friend, I look behind. Nor am I done with my changes.

Renee Barrett-Arjune worked as a compensation accountant at Cantor Fitzgerald in Tower 1 of the World Trace Center. She grew up in Brooklyn and lived in Irvington, NJ. She was active in the church where Blog Widow John worked at the time; I met her a couple of times through him. She was 41.

Her name is inscribed in a bronze panel – #N-48 – along the North Pool of the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero. The names of Cantor Fitzgerald employees and consultants make up 34, nearly half, of the panels surrounding the North Pool.