Rice Balls: New York, 1983


Your skin is yellow and you

weigh about 100 pounds.

Your face is gaunt and your

eyes bulge out of your head

like the eyes of fly.  You are

inert, wasted and wasting.

You got the flu but it wouldn’t go

away and then came the lesions,

first on your shoulder then your

chest and now they cover your

torso like you’ve been leeched in

the Dark Ages.  You took yourself

to the ER where you lay on a

gurney in your own shit for hours

and then you were put in isolation,

told you have AIDS and now

you will never be touched by

an ungloved hand again.


And it keeps getting worse.

Your veins burn from one medicine

while your brain is being eaten

alive by some virus only birds get.

Meals are pushed into your room

by terrified orderlies but you

can’t bear to eat them because the

lesions are in your throat too.  Your life

has become some medieval nightmare

and apparently you are going to

expire in absolute agony.


It is the reverse trajectory of

The Wizard of Oz where you

are thrust backwards into a

grim black and white world

forever banished from the

vibrancy of your beloved

New York that you chose

like a promised land.


Only a month ago you were at

home in your 5th floor walk-up

with the slanted floors and

high ceilings in Little Italy

where a fat lady with big red

hair sat outside your window

at a card table selling rice balls

out of tin foil pans.  She made

them in her tenement kitchen and

would show up everyday at 3 yelling

Rice balls, come and get ‘em!

just when the local school lets

out with the mostly Chinese kids

whose mothers were there to get them,

and no one was speaking English.

The rice ball lady had a broom the

handle of which she would wave

and poke at people, mostly Black

people, when she didn’t like them.

Once you called the police to

report this and they just laughed

when you told them where

you lived.


And now, nothing is left of you but

this wasting, gasping, collapsing, fevered

body well on its way to becoming a

corpse.  The doctor tells you, through

his surgical mask, that you are

‘putting up a good fight’ but you’d

like to hit him with the handle

of a broomstick and finally

buy one of those rice balls.




Somewhere between Marianne Faithfull

and Leonard Cohen I decide to add

Burt Bacharach to the playlist I am making

the first few notes of Jackie DeShannon’s voice

singing What the World Needs Now bounce around

the airy room – living room dining room and kitchen

all in one – and can be heard outside by the pool

which is being heated because the nights are still chilly

and cannot be heard by our old dog who is fast asleep

on the rug by the fireplace having given up hope

for a ride in the Jeep his favorite thing

and then there you are standing next to me with

your food-stained blue cooking apron on and your even bluer eyes

and here we are carrying on waiting for house guests to arrive

so I wonder what I will play next and I think

perhaps Jimmy Webb might be right his voice plaintive

and unadorned singing Wichita Lineman the song he wrote

I need you more than want you and I want you

for all time yes that should do the trick

hold everything together and be soft enough to

not wake the dog.


by Jay Kidd


Jay Kidd is a student at the Writers Studio in New York, studying with Philip Schultz. His poem “Lost Time” recently appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

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