Author's Note: I first met my friend John Hang in 1983 when we were both teaching at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In 1984, at the end of the academic year, we left for other jobs in different countries. John and I kept in close touch, and a few years later we ended up in Boston and Florida respectively. When he got sick, we wrote letters and spoke on the phone several times. He was a good friend and a genuine, decent human being.
A Branch On Fire
When I started to write a poem
about my friend John Hang,
I was reminded of why
I had never written
about him before.
He wasn’t the first friend
I had who died of AIDS,
and he wasn’t the last,
but we were close,
former housemates in a large villa
in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—
we shared the same taste
in music and books,
cooked meals together
and he could always
make me laugh
even in that repressive country.
After we both left for other jobs,
he moved to Spain
teaching English and writing letters
home to his family and friends,
then moved back to Boston.
When he got sick,
I spoke to him in the hospital
and he told me he had
developed a fungus in his lungs—
I wished him well,
sent him Belgian chocolates
(his favorite), and a drawing of a tree
and note from my daughter
(seven years old at the time).
He wrote back directly to her
making no mention of being sick
(she was too young
to understand what was going on)
thanks for the drawings, he said,
you could be an artist! And thank
your dad for the package. I’m at
my brother’s house now,
and enjoying being out of the hospital.
A few weeks later, his sister called
to tell me he had passed away—
I’m so sorry, I stammered, choking up,
then added I don’t know
what else to say,
we both sighed and agreed
that at least he wasn’t suffering anymore.
Now almost thirty years later,
I still don’t know what to say,
except I miss my friend,
and his footsteps on the earth.
Sometimes grief is like a branch
on fire, and you don’t know
where to grab onto
to put out the flames.
photo: John Hang in Saudi Arabia, 1984
©2020 Michael Minassian
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