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A Poem by Donald

April 2011


Twenty four years, now, since April 25, 1987
When the test results came back and I was told: positive
Positive for having been exposed to the then-named human immunodeficiency virus
Positive because antibodies to the virus could be detected in my blood
Positive because the antibodies would not be there if the virus had not been there first
Like footprints in the sand of a cruel beach where no wave would come to wash them away

One cannot exaggerate the importance of the exact nature of the test result, because
HIV positive was not acquired immune deficiency syndrome, yet.
One cannot exaggerate the importance of the precision of the words used to describe the condition, because
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome was a death sentence and HIV positive was not, yet.
One cannot exaggerate the importance of a word like "yet" because
One can never forget that there was a time when words were the only defense we had
Against a scourge that would expose hidden, debilitate strong, humiliate proud and, eventually, slay ... all?

There was a time when words were the only defense we had.
Words were the only defense we had.
Words were the only defense.
We had only words.

We had words, so, we used words.
We raged at the blind eye turned and screamed at the deafness feigned.
We pleaded with studied indifference and bargained with unseemly greed.
We asked for help and offered help and wondered when it all might end.
We spoke of hope and promise even as we articulated pain and grief.
And we said goodbye and said goodbye and said goodbye until saying goodbye was no longer enough.
So we sang goodbye and bricked goodbye and benched goodbye and planted goodbye and watched it grow.
We wrote goodbye and marched goodbye and rode goodbye and lit goodbye and watched it burn.
We sewed goodbye and sewed goodbye and sewed goodbye and splayed the sewing on the ground in solemn rituals
So all of us whom words had failed would have a place to stand as the silence of goodbyes said and done with even echoing
Could rush in around our frozen feet and swirling up to stir our memories of love and loss fail once more to wash them from our lives.

We had words, so, we used words.
We circled ourselves into groups so that no one need face the scourge alone.
We shared our symptoms and our sympathies and spoke of philosophies as remedies.
We exposed our fears and our vanities while revealing our proclivities and disclaiming our tendencies.
We became old hands who helped new converts reach down, find their bootstraps and pull even when no strength seemed possible.
And we told how long we had known of our status: one year, two years, three years, four
then five years, ten years, incredibly, even more.
Together we learned the new exotic words: nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors,
non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, protease inhibitors, fusion inhibitors, integrase inhibitors, pharmacokinetic enhancers
Strange new language, this, yet we learned to speak it and understand it and help others grasp the white and black sides of its binding-spell magic.
And, we defied the odds if not the gods and through all this most of us were so careful to perpetuate the deliberate phraseology
Allowing us to be, merely, HIV positive, and soon enough, the almost-hip POZ.
Some, though, would say, relentlessly, "I am HIV"
Did they err, or did I?

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This article was provided by 2011 Poetry Month at
See Also
2013 Poetry Month at HIV/AIDS-Related Poems From Our Readers
A Message From Your Poetry Editor
2012 Poetry Month at
2011 Poetry Month at
2010 Poetry Month at


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