"Unimaginable Grief, Unexpected Joy": AIDS in Poetry
Remember to take enough
more than the little --
double what you desire
to balance the happiness you need.
As potent seconds
time enough to take
is more than any book can tell,
drink of laughter
finish it completely
Walter Holland is the author of Journal of the Plague Years: Poems 1979-1992 and a novel, The March. He holds a Ph.D. in English from The City University of New York. In 1999 he gave the keynote speech at the first annual Provincetown Poetry Festival. His work has appeared in many periodicals and anthologies. He teaches at The New School. A second book of his poetry is forthcoming in November from Painted Leaf Press, New York City.
To a Lover Who is HIV-Positive
Grief; and a hope
that springs from your intention
to forward projects as assertive
or lasting as flesh ever upholds.
Love; and a fear
Guilt; and bewilderment
Anger; and knowledge
This poem came as result of belonging to what is sometimes called a "sero-discordant couple," one partner HIV-negative, the other positive. It's not a difference easy to negotiate, as perhaps the poem makes clear. Early on, Rich, my new lover, offered me the choice to avoid commitment, citing his condition; but I chose instead to go forward with the relationship -- a decision I don't regret. I believe that medical research will find a fully satisfactory treatment for HIV and that this epidemic will come to an end. When that happens, what joy it will bring. -- Alfred Corn
rush with bird songs
trickling through pines,
a kind of uncovering, a lifting off of stones.
Last year Jay was harassed here,
Jay held his ground in silence,
This year, Jay is in St. Luke's
Propped up in bed, between sips of soda
Throat swelled with sphagnum,
I was very into bird watching as a kid, and being a native New Yorker, that meant spending time in the Central Park Rambles, a secluded, heavily wooded area frequented by shy birds and gay men. The memories of gay men cruising and of bird-watching are forever entwined in my mind. So when I heard the story about a gay man harassed in the park during the height of the AIDS epidemic, this meditation on gay men, birds, immune systems, ecosystems and all things beautiful, fragile, and temporal seemed a natural and inevitable response. -- Gerry Gomez Pearlberg
Gerry Gomez Pearlberg's first poetry collection,Marianne Faithfull's Cigarette, was a 1998 Lambda Literary Award recipient. Her second book of poems, Mr. Bluebird, is forthcoming from Painted Leaf Press in April 2001. She teaches a poetry workshop at the AIDS Service Center of Lower Manhattan and is the author of Women, AIDS, and Communities: A Guide for Action (Scarecrow Press).
Arguments of Silence
Do you wish people to think
Silence is death.
Silence as friend. For what can grow without it?
If silence equals death, does death equal silence?
Only in the charged silence after death
dwindles behind an invisible veil or glaze
Silence as style, as stubbornness, as stoical
"There's nothing more to say," and walked away.
The impulse swells, as fountains do not stop,
new takes, new combinations. Or not new
I salute you, friends who would not button
who refused to huddle caged as in contagion,
the horns of the dilemma how to live
and dance and balance not struck dumb by fear,
That certain words are tinny in our time
culture diversity even maybe silence
that speech is not always heroic, not
that silence is as likely to mean sleep,
doesn't release us from the same of language.
know without speaking what is wished or meant --
Habit, telepathy, passion:
The danger's hardly tyranny by silence.
If anything can guarantee our silence,
Some of the AIDS-spurred debates of the 1980s about silence vs. speech, their urgency tinged by mortality, inform the dialectic of my poem. "Arguments of Silence" attempts to capture and even to extend, though certainly not to complete or resolve. -- Rachel Hadas
Rachel Hadas is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, essays, and criticism, most recently Merrill, Cavafy, Poems, and Dreams (University of Michigan Press Poets on Poetry Series, 2000). Currently a Fellow at the New York Public Library's Center for Scholars and Writers, she teaches English at the Newark campus of Rutgers University.
A Pompeii of the Arm
By Dean Kostos
When midnight peeled back Manhattan,
your room blurred with vapors. The scald
hard swirl of floor. Delirious,
shut circulation into a permanent V.
Doctors loomed; their moon eyes probed
and mold. Like performing a Caesarean
a slit in it: infection oozed.
soaking, suctioning. No use.
off. Doctors rasped,
Painkillers conjured showers
jagged stones rained, the sky dusked
faces with the permanence
Recovery room: The Phantom hand felt
crab fingers crawled in the air. But
while doctors clamped your stub
Deus ex machina, inverse.
Though you'd look like some ruined
re-entering the world, broken.
In the cells of your brain's gray hive,
the moment you fell, the way
hold their last poses, cast
saeculorum: codices to be cracked
Arms throw pots on a wheel, hands
of wet plaster. Midnight
of outliving AIDS. Your room
there, the Arm reappears,
between the realms Was and Is.
Dean Kostos is the author of The Sentence that Ends with a Comma.
Back to the April 2001 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.