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December 12, 1986

An Immediate Desire to Survive

Author Affiliations

Piedmont Hospital Atlanta

JAMA. 1986;256(22):3163. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03380220129041

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Bill Becker died of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) on April 23, 1985, in New York City in early middle age. He was an art director in the advertising field, presumably at the peak of his career, when he contracted this relentless disease.

This small book of poems begins in August 1983, when he first suspects he has the disease ("Just what part of us will survive the blasphemies committed in darkened rooms, in strangers' beds?"), and ends in early February 1985. The penultimate piece reads as follows:

The body collapses into itself Structured demolition surface unseen Candid eruption doing havoc on nerve Nuclear fission on a human scale—

Cellular chain reaction An immunity implosion Self interest Self pity Schizophrenic optimism Relapse—

There are a total of 29 short poems that speak, among many things, of gluttony and lust, love and innocence, hate and fear, bravery, seduction, dying, and human support.