Standing before the monastic medieval hospital,
now a hotel replete with ornate furniture,
art of the Renaissance
and the honored guests of the Conference,
I watch the red-tiled roofs blend into the mixed greens
of misty morning fields
through which the pious once crawled to the lofty cathedral,
knees kissing misty earth, from Paris and beyond.
In the mornings, we confer on AIDS.
We eat away our afternoons
discussing drugs, wines and the relative merits
of Italian and Galician cuisine,
while spider crabs, pulpo, and leather-skinned barnacles
fill our tongues with textures and tastes
quite unknown to most Americans.
On the stony stairs behind the Cathedral
and in farms misty amid gentle green,
young and old also speak of drugs
as they savor needles,
perhaps a lingering kiss
Their skeletal cheeks and protruding eyes
meander through the misty rooftops
of our tipsy minds
as we lick our last liqueurs
from sated lips.
On our final evening
in this city of mystic pilgrimages
and of haunted seekers of chemical bliss,
the bishop opens the cathedral for a devotional service
for the pilgrims of research.
As a keynote speaker at the Conference,
I stand behind the altar,
an altar topped by St. James and horsebacked angels
whose swords scythe sinners from their heaven above,
far, far above the ancient benches
where peasants once trembled.
My eyes exchange ironies with Jaap Goudsmit
as we cannot forget
ancestors driven from this land of beauty
by Los Reyes Catolicos,
for whom they named the hotel
where we have slept amidst aristocratic luxury;
and I think of the bombs of Catholic authority
dripping scant years before my birth
like the Santiago mist
in this ancient country of pulpo
and of workers' revolution.
I stand behind an altar of sword-wielding angels,
myself an icon in a rite of unity against a virus,
in a world where unity dissipates like the holy incense
blessed by the Monsignor of the cathedral,
flaming incense soaring high above
its giant urn restrained by a rope
pulled and released by aged men in splendid robes.
The urn plummets like a gargoyle unleashed,
flames roaring earthwards,
smoke like the breath of a gasping Satan
pouring over the congregation
and over the pilgrims of AIDS research
while the evening plummets downwards
like the flames,
bringing the joys of a cold Friday evening