Love in the Time of PrEP


To see more clearly,

             we climbed the shifting sands

                             of the volcano. We read

in the guidebook that we might

             be haunted if the mist & the light


were just right. Sure enough,

             a rainbow haloed my head’s

                             shadow. Brocken spectre

it’s called, & “Isn’t this awesome,”

             my husband the dork said. He was thinking


about science again, about how 

             light & water particles

                             bounce & interact & refract

against each other, whereas I,

             the melodramatic poet, saw


some paranormal visitor, some queer saint.

             In bed, my husband

                             tells me that in the ’90s

he had a choice: either to kill himself

             or to come out & die from aids.


Time moves like bluffs,

             like erosion. It flattens to rift & split.

                             It carves down the precipice

like the runoff we clambered up

             to find the path had already


deteriorated. I hiked in just my flip-flops,

             & when the thong broke

                             I hiked in just my bare feet.

Let’s go back some day. Let’s go back

             to where the ocean’s panorama


was endless & shimmering,

             where the violets bursting forth

                             were reminders that the world

will go on generously without us.

             In bed I kiss you


between your shoulder blades & say,

             “I’m glad you’re here.” North of us

                             two Berkeley freshmen

are skipping class. They are learning.

             They are taking turns


taking each other raw, as if they alone

             discover something new,

                             as if none of this

had ever happened. Do they even know

             their own history? Do I?


The lines “In bed I kiss you / between your shoulder blades & say, / ‘I’m glad you’re here’” come from the poem “A Hole of Bones & Thread” by Chuck Carlise.


Jacques J. Rancourt is the author of Novena, winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd prize (Pleiades Press, 2017), and In the Time of PrEP (Beloit Poetry Journal, 2018). He has held poetry fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, and Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow. His poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, jubilat, New England Review, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Best New Poets 2014, among others. He lives and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area.