Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Day 1: The Diagnosis

You

are HIV-positive: This is not
a death sentence. This is not
the end of the world. Not

the end of your life. It is
a beginning. It is your walk
to walk. You will not walk

alone. For the rest
of your days, your blood
will tell us all. Imagine one drop:

When negative, your viral load
was zero. Today, it is 196
thousand. Which says you’ve had this
a very long time.

In this same drop,
T-cells are your soldiers.
A negative man’s army?
About one thousand. Yours?
12. Which means your body

has already surrendered.

I am not here
to alarm you, but you cannot
leave here and continue
to live like this

*
There is help, but we can't help you
here. Take this card.
G_d,
your eyes. You’re so
young. We see so many
like you. Why do you
wait

so long?

6 comments:

BLUE said...

m'kay:

very accessible.

uses some of the language of the disease (T-cells, viral load).

POV is not the voice of the plagued, but the voice of one who must treat the plagued (very different perspective).

there is a slight detachment (initially) in the voice, but it turns in the last two stanzas to something that sounds like compassion. so i wonder: have the voices of physicians and caretakers become so clinical that they don't really feel compassion anymore? if they are incapable of great compassion after seeing so many disease-altered lives, what is powerful enough to tap into that compassion? is it really someone's eyes?

this poem is a safe middle ground ... doesn't lean too hard into clinical detachment or into deep compassion. its primary purpose seems to be to give information.

i think if you take on a suite of poems on a specific topic, they need to take a stand on something. taking a stand could be something as simple as showing pain (or lack thereof). it could also be just showing all the ways that different people who are affected by the disease begin to voice that (see Sanchez's Does Your House Have Lions). it could be to chronicle and name the details and follow the morphing of feelings (see anything by Tory Dent).

what i really dig about this poem is that it DOES present a different POV than i'm used to. so many poems about AIDS present themselves as monologues for the afflicted. so i love the direction of this piece.

but somehow, i want it to be a little more cocky in its stance.

i couldn't help but follow the end words here, too ... (don't know if that's me at work or the poem, but it provided some interesting shorthand):

You

not
not
Not

is
walk
walk

rest
blood
drop:

load
196
this

time
drop,
soldiers
army?

Yours?
body

surrendered

here
cannot
live
this

you
card.
You're
many
you
wait

long?

thanks for letting us in like this. we know you didn't have to. still cheering wildly!

light!

Collin said...

Sigh. You're not gonna like me anymore, Ayo.

Yes, it's accessible and, yes, the the final stanza struck me, but getting there was so pedestrian and, I hate to say it, cliched.

This is not a death sentence.
This is not the end of the world.
You will not walk alone.

Come on, Ayo! Where has your voice gone? Stop giving me AIDS Hallmark cards and punch me in the gut with your words like you used to.

Finding a new angle to write about HIV/AIDS is difficult. I've filtered my writing through my uncle who died from it back in the early 90s and by writing about the women in Africa who have been infected. HIV/AIDS is on the backburner these days because the world is preoccupied with war. Putting a face on this person, something about their history, something about "why" they waited so long would have made this poem bloom.

Is it a kid forced into prostitution, is the person male or female, is it a junkie? Who is this nebulous person I'm supposed to care about? We are beyond public service announcements with HIV/AIDS...we need stories. Humanity.

M. Ayodele Heath said...

Collin wrote:

Yes, it's accessible and, yes, the the final stanza struck me, but getting there was so pedestrian and, I hate to say it, cliched.

This is not a death sentence.
This is not the end of the world.
You will not walk alone.

Come on, Ayo! Where has your voice gone? Stop giving me AIDS Hallmark cards


Well, rest assured that my voice hasn't gone anywhere. The "Ayo voice" you're referring to is largely ironic and very colorful, but just not well-suited for this project.

Now, a different question is whether the voice I've appropriated is suited for this project. I'll have to agree with you that it isn't. The voice here wants to be clinical and detached (as Blue pointed out), but, as is in the case of writing in dialect, the struggle is to make the mundane/clinical sound lyrical. I do have some work to do in this area.

The opening has Hallmark all over it. I need to find more creative language for the medical professional. The difficulty is that clinical language is spare and colorless. The poem (and I used the word very loosely) doesn't stand on its own. It needs crutches and bandages and IVs and catheters and...

Collin also wrote:

Is it a kid forced into prostitution, is the person male or female, is it a junkie? Who is this nebulous person I'm supposed to care about?

I don't know if this is the place for introducing social issues such as child prostitution or drug use. HIV has enough stigmas attached to it already. I'm attempting to normalize the experience without naming the individual in a way that the reader can easily say, "That's not me, so I don't have to worry about it."

The details about the who are provided in the first poem, "Day Negative 7." It is a male and it can be surmised that he acquired it through sexual transmission. I didn't want to spin it as homosexual or heterosexual, again, because I didn't want to limit the audience.

If I received this in a workshop, as is, I'd rip it, too. So, I don't hate you at all. It means I can really count on your compliments!

M. Ayodele Heath said...

Blue wrote:

have the voices of physicians and caretakers become so clinical that they don't really feel compassion anymore? if they are incapable of great compassion after seeing so many disease-altered lives, what is powerful enough to tap into that compassion? is it really someone's eyes?

Good question. I believe that it is the eyes, but I think that I haven't chosen the proper aspect of the eyes to make that come across to the reader.

Blue also wrote:
but somehow, i want it to be a little more cocky in its stance. You know, when I began this poem, the tone was 100% clinical, but then I couldn't justify the existence of the poem. I felt like a turn/movement needed to occur - hence, the compassion. I felt like too much compassion would be indulgent and that too much coldness would defeat what I believe to be the central project of the sequence, which is to normalize the disease in a way that makes Blacks go get tested.

This sequence arises from a Black friend I lost in 2000, who refused to get tested because of the stigma. I know that I have a lot of work to do on the series, but it is something I would eventually like to incorporate into my sets as a sort of 6-8 minute poetic PSA for HIV testing.

But none of that is important right now. What is important is that there are craft problems in the sequence, and I really appreciate your time and honesty for helping me improve these poems.

Love

Collin said...

I realize that you don't want to pigeon-hole the person you're writing about in this series. As you indicated... you dont' want readers/listeners to dismiss the words as "that's not me."

However, since you've admitted this is based on friend who refused to get tested, you have, for me, opened up a window on who we are dealing with. And holding up that mirror to men, especially, who don't want to get tested and are on the DL, will be an uphill battle, but it's one that must be joined.

I wish you had been at the reading I did with Dr. Sindiwe Magona at the NBAF last month. She presented a cutting from her new play "Vukani (Wake Up)", which addressed South African men who refuse to get tested because of stigma and still believe sex with a virgin can cure them of HIV/AIDS. The fact that this also happens in America (but without the virgin myth), could create a strong connection between your life here and what you saw in Africa.

There are so many possibilities here. Explore them...make these poems the first block and build.

M. Ayodele Heath said...

Collin wrote:

The fact that this also happens in America (but without the virgin myth), could create a strong connection between your life here and what you saw in Africa.

There are so many possibilities here. Explore them...make these poems the first block and build.



That's an excellent suggestion. I'll get on it.