us by Tory Dent explores living with an illness, with brutal reality made a little more comforting my the presence of a lover. While in hospital, battling sickness and looking for positives, Dent states that while ‘in your arms’, she feels a little safer and happier. The poem is incredibly tragic, while also being a beautiful tribute to love.
Tory Dent was diagnosed with HIV at 30, having to battle the illness for the rest of her life. This poem takes place within the hospital, us exploring Dent’s experience with living with HIV. There is a delicate balance of supportive love and worry within the poem, the lovers having to be careful as to not disconnect the I.V. catheter while hugging. The poem begins and ends with the same image, focusing completely on being within ‘your arms’, the beauty of human connection being the central focus of us. The certainty of death is present within the poem, but that does not stop Dent from enjoying the moment, being present, and happy within her lover’s arms.
You can read the full poem here.
Dent’s us is written across 55 lines, the poem is constructed as one continuous stanza. The poem is written in free verse, not following any traditional structures of poetry and instead of weaving through images naturally. The freedom of this structure serves as a symbol of liberation, Dent confined to her hospital bed but able to tap into a glimpse of freedom through this free form structure. Similarly, the use of free verse reflects the movement of thought within the poem, Dent writing in an almost stream of consciousness as us progresses.
Considering this poem is focusing entirely on the couple, us being the title of the poem, it is not surprising to see the image of physical intimacy is both the opening and closing line. The image of being ‘in your arms’ echoes throughout the poem, but is most importantly placed as these first and final thoughts of the poem. This structurally envelops the poem within ‘your arms’, the linguistic image embracing the rest of the poem in line with Dent’s own lover embracing her. The structure of the poem is beautifully paced, with this being one of the many beautiful images Dent creates.
in your arms(…)which we placed, consciously,
The opening image of the poem is perhaps one of the most important, ‘in your arms’, instantly characterizing the relationship between Dent and her lover as comforting and close. The constant use of the lowercase within the poem could be attributed to the sense of being comfortable between the couple, neither needing to be ‘correct’ when with each other.
Dent states that in moments of sorrow or pain, ‘it was incredibly often/enough to be/in your arms’, with the comfort she feels from being with her lover helping her through these stages. The short sentence structure of the poem perhaps echoes an almost shortness of breath, the poet reflecting her illness through her fractured lines.
Next to the image of comfort, ‘in your arms’, comes Dent’s presentation of being ‘careful’. Indeed, for the sick woman, the medical equipment around her is something that directly helps her condition, with the lovers taking extra care not to disrupt ‘the I.V. catheter’ attached to her. The scale of attachment is depicted through the triple repetition of ‘my’, the ‘catheter’ seemingly penetrating her in several places: ‘hand’, ‘wrist’, ‘forearm’, the wire almost twining around her body – as if symbolizing the burden of sickness.
The cautious nature of the couple is further developed through the use of caesura, ‘we placed, consciously,’ being encapsulated with a caesura and end stop. In doing this, Dent creates a metrical pause, the slight pause reflecting the careful nature of the couple as they move delicately around the medical equipment to hug.
like a Gamboni vase,(…)amidst the fears which wildly collided
Dent presents her own identity as ‘frail’, portraying the harsh realities of living with sickness through her self-association with being ‘frail’. The replacement of medical equipment, described through the hopeful ‘someday-newborn’ suggests that they worry about the equipment greatly. The wires rest on her body, exactly in the location that her ‘newborn child’ would. Due to Dent’s sickness, it is unlikely that she would have children. Yet, the couple still has elements of hope, as displayed through the use of ‘someday’. The slight lack of specificity reveals the emptiness of this hope, Dent knowing deep down that this is not a reality they will fulfill.
Dent’s lover makes her feel incredibly comfortable, his presence is the only thing getting her through the sickness. The image of ‘secluded, washed over’ creates a sense of peace, the isolation of ‘secluded’ being joined by harmonious sounds and images of the sea within the water imagery of ‘washed’. It seems that Dent lives happily despite her sickness, taking in this moment with her lover.
and the complexities(…)from our pinched and tiny minds
These lines of us detail the ‘fears’ and ‘complexities/of the illness’, everything that Dent and her lover ‘had yet to do’, and the ‘ridiculous amounts’ of hope that kept them going. Illness and death are certain, yet the fighting against that certainty is what makes Dent’s poetry so incredibly moving, they never stop ‘pump[ing]’, even if it is only for a ‘short-lived’ benefit. Dent and her lover are there for each other, all the time Dent using the collective ‘we’ when talking about her own current situation. She clearly loved her partner very much, using them as a support system that kept her going ‘amidst the fears’.
just the idea of hope(…)it weighed down
The ‘idea of hope’ is central within this poem, Dent’s lover providing the support that gives her hope and allows her to continue on. Although the individual human ‘tiny mind’ seems insignificant, ‘hope’ is presented as being produced from nothing, ‘make it from scratch, air and water/like manufactured snow’, with Dent stating that everyone can make and use the power of hope. Even in moments of ‘colossal fatigue’, these moments in which the world seems too vast, Dent rallies the reader to try, just ‘for a moment’, find something to keep you going.
but remained above(…)in your arms
The final moments of the poem draw back into the physical space Dent occupies, ‘in your arms/only there’, returning again. Dent is fighting against death, the ‘tow against inevitable ebb’, the use of a hyphen following this image representing the nothingness of the end of life.
Dent suggests that you don’t need ‘reasons to live’, the use of plural then being followed by the suggestion that you only need ‘one reason’ to continue fighting. Something that will descend through the ‘fog’ to save you, ‘sweet in muddy dark’, always providing comfort. For Dent, that was her love, ‘it is, it was/in your arms’, the safety he provides being the thing that keeps her going.
The poem is incredibly tragic, but simultaneously displays the incredible brilliance of Dent, her poetic skill communicating the amazing support her lover provided her throughout her sickness. Tory Dent’s lover was the reason she kept on fighting, ‘in your arms’ the only place she wanted to be.