The HIV Here & Now logo (courtesy of Michael Broder)
As part of our marking of the 35th anniversary of the recognition of the AIDS epidemic, TheBody.com interviewed Michael Broder, a long-time survivor of HIV and a poet who founded HIV Here & Now, which uses literary arts to advocate for a world without HIV.
HIV Here & Now posted a new piece of poetry each day leading up to the anniversary date. TheBody.com invited Broder to curate a selection of poems from the year-long effort, explaining his choice of each piece. Together, the collection presents a broad scope of perspectives and approaches to communicating about HIV through the power of poetry:
This first one is one of the final poems in the countdown (June 2). I don't require poets to tell me their HIV status or anything related to their experience with HIV. I let the poems speak for themselves. But I do ask for author photos, and so I have some information about race, ethnicity, age, etc. I like the fact that this is a poem about living with HIV by a young white woman. Of course, we cannot be sure, unless the poet tells, that the poem is autobiographical. But nevertheless, we have that perspective being shared in the poem.
By J.M. Templet
I sit across from ghosts
at a folding card table
in the basement of
Our Lady of Perpetual Redemption
I wonder at women saints
I've read about
some dying in flame or war
their intellect too beautiful
hiding under those black robes
I want to write a torrid romance
saints must have such terrible guilt
over sex or fantasy
more than shame, more than hate
such purity it must be
Penny, the ghost on my left
is calling herself Penelope today
she thinks if she keeps
changing her name we might
forget her hollow eyes
her hollow necklace of collar bones
she smokes cigarettes attached
to long pipes like in silent films
Rob, our group leader
is too scared to tell her to stop
smoke is not allowed here
we might get cancer
last time he told her that
she leaned over
blew smoke in his mouth
with her black lips missing teeth
she said he kissed like a fish
all trout and no claw
Rob asks me about coping
about hope and inspiration
I'm supposed to talk about God
I'm supposed to ignore
the cross and the man nailed to it
such a symbol to admire
we, the cursed, should be saints
our suffering tears collected
for blessings faith healings seed money
I tell him I'm writing an autobiography
when it is turned into a screenplay
I want Liv Tyler to play me
the young me
without the weak left leg
almost yellow right eye
hitch walk, cave belly
without the bruised lips
arms tattooed with needle marks
blood drawn blood given
garbage in garbage out
we hold hands
our arms an unwilling
Rob barely grips Penny's
he knows he can't catch it
his letters are not H nor I nor V
his letters are in that brown book
frayed at the edges
he carries close to his chest
This next poem is by a transgender women of color who has worked tirelessly for years advocating for marginalized communities: transwomen of color and people with HIV and AIDS. I come from the world of poetry workshops and graduate programs and poetry journals and presses and poetry as a business (what we poets call "pobiz"). I value this poem because it does not come from that world. I value this poem for its direct and honest expression of personal experience.
By Tela L. Love
Yes. I've been the hurt one, sad confused and afraid.
Believing for my promiscuities; for my insecurities; for my impurities there was a price to be paid.
I've lain down with the wrong man and arose to find I now carry a deadly strand taking the form of HIV inside of me.
What do I do now? I've lost my will to live.
That's what I first thought when I tested positive.
I fought with myself.
With my emotions I did wrestle with how this virus somehow crept into my vessel.
I cried constantly using drugs to cope.
My dealer became my doctor; he kept me supplied with dope.
I ran from the truth, destroyed any proof, I had HIV unknowing it was the truth I needed to set me free.
With no one to blame for this mind numbing pain, I isolated as I contemplated ways to die.
Tired of suffering and living this lie.
In public I wore baggy clothes and a hood covered my head.
There was a vacancy in my eyes while I roamed as the walking dead.
Then one day I fell to my knees and belted out a cry.
Why Lord why?
The Great Spirit said, "Hold on, be strong. I'm not ready for you to come home.
You were living recklessly and we're running out of time.
You were moving much too fast and I need you back in line.
I'm preparing you to do things you never thought you would.
Just know, My Child, all things are working together for your good."
So today I don't blame the man whom I thought for certain held my life in his hand.
Cause truth be told; he broke no law.
It was my decision to let him to enter me raw.
Today I say:
Protect yourself, don't infect yourself.
Protect yourself, don't disrespect yourself.
Protect yourself, don't neglect yourself!
Because in 2016, If you fall weak to temptation and give in to lust ...
Please remember to play it safe and wrap it up.