Tuesday, December 2, 2008

World AIDS Day Poetry

I'm a day late, but it just dawned on me that in honor of yesterday's 20th celebration of World AIDS Day I should have shared some poetry related to HIV/AIDS.

Here are selections from Tory Dent's "Black Milk".  Tory Dent lived with HIV for 17 years before her death in 2005 and was a famous poet and commentator on the AIDS crisis.  

Black Milk
in memory of "HIV, Mon Amour"


Black trees, blue trees, white trees, bare trees --
Whatever was my life has been returned to me
in a made-of-trees coffin
killed in action like a veteran husband, its flag
a pitiful consolation,
its flag a smug presupposition,
for some greater cause more important
apart from what you know to be the most important to you:
his voice, his smile.

To me, the world now held away, irreversibly,
that once was just (now "just"?) suspended,
when I thought then there could be no greater torture.

Life's truest truth, it's that truth itself
unravels in ways that reveal less not more sense or comfort.

Consolationless is the tarmac wind, the kickback of jet fuel fume,
the bulkhead of the coffin wherein only regret to be alive
alights in contrast.

It burns like eyes burned out by cinders,
a hot poker waved amidst laughter.

It burns, a torch's temporary pathway
improvised within black trees, blue trees.

It burns like a novena unerring,
pure prayer within the black trees of longing.

It burns, the ultimate act of atonement,
the cremation of what I tried to save.

It burns in order to drown, ash in saline,
May fly rose petals of burial at sea.


It burns in order to drown, ash in saline,
the May fly rose petals of burial at sea.

The regret burns like its converse property,
the hope I had (so fucking much of it) now retarded in me,
a tumor, inoperable, contained by chemo, a perverse kind of cancer
where the desire to live only prolongs the suffering --

I wish death upon this desire, I wish AIDS and cancer
upon this desire, let the desire suffer instead of me,
this pathetic willingness to live regardless of consequence,
regardless of indignation.

Who am I but the vessel, the holy vessel for this desire,
and for the natural spasms that confirm somatic reality:
vomiting, allergic reactions, orgasm, coughing;
involuntary humiliations, proof of living, of precious humanness.

In order to suffer one must divorce the pain,
divorce the vessel, until you become a slave to the vessel,
a whore to the harpy's needs, its spasms, its pathetic desires.

Its moanings must be tended, its shaking and sweating,
its fevers, its ailments, its medications -- copious, expensive.
What are these drugs but a very refined life-support system,
science at its most powerful, most phallocentric?

We were not born for this, this stainless steel,
this sanitary lack of love, this medicine-vacuum.


For this, this stainless steel, this sanitary lack of love,
this medicine-vacuum, we were not born.

Yet every twelve hours I take my drugs and refuse to capitulate
to the desire, acquiesce to that most base, pre-conscious motivation
that's common to humans and dogs, from scavengers
whose howling in the distance we detect as equidistant to the canine
within us, the jubilee of inconsequential behavior.

We enjoy acoustically the disowning.

But under the weight of one life-threatening moment,
concretized and extenuated by its repercussion,
what distinguishes us as civilized, as generations apart
from the medieval acts of our ancestors, collapses,
so fragile is the rope bridge of its construction,
reducing us all to dogs.

Let no more natural light befall, thus, like shiny hair
upon pillowcase, this crying face.

Let no more jealousies assemble in my heart like migrant workers.

Take me as a life can be taken in a car accident,
or at gunpoint then exterminated,
taken from the pack, a succulent carcass extracted
from their exhilarated jaws, for too well do I identify
with the hunger, the taste, the smell.

Take the needle, arrest these senses,
excise the egg-shaped moon from my field of vision
and silence the bark.

Sections I, II, III of the 35-section title poem from Tory Dent's recently released Black Milk (Sheep Meadow Press, 2005).  Accessed via NPR

I invite you to look at The Body's collection of HIV/AIDS poetry.  Think about ways art enters the political and what role poetry plays as a means to instigate activism and awareness.

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