poetics & pandemics is conceived as a Quarterly virtual publishing & performance platform that takes seriously the role of word, voice, ideas, and semiotics in framing how pandemics like HIV & Covid-19 root themselves in cultural landscapes. We will curate a quarterly open mic that features the written and performance work of artists, poets, critical thinkers. Open mic will be a mix of performance and interview as we engage contributors work and ideas in context to the current and historical events delimited by a focus on our anticipated changing theme.
To make the most of our time our exhibitions, curated open mics, art/artist/artivist showcases will be framed among four key themes:
race: dna of disparities and underlying conditions
health disparities and co-morbidities are not new; pandemics do however occasion the re-opening of these systemic, pervasive, insistent sores and pushes them in the face of new publics in arresting uncomfortable ways. through the voices of keen artivists and organizers whose lifework and cultural contributions make way for the artivist spaces we occupy now
we want to animate our lived and living histories and hold these in conversation with contemporary voices and movements. In the American context COVID-19 lays bare
how these disparities structure around world historical organizing principles like race and white supremacy. The focus here hopes to hold the emergent themes surrounding this new pandemic in conversation with that of HIV/AIDS in the American and global contexts.
[Other Countries, Colin Robinson]
desire: the 3-D & the geosocial
the logics of DNA everywhere is bio-diversity and reproduction. Human DNA is no different. Pandemics invariably change how humans weigh the temporary and long-term risk of all things conjugal. We explore here how cultures mitigate the sex, sex work, sexual acts, gender and sexual identities, and norms attendant to desire against the imagined and real-life risks of transmission, illness, and death.
We insist on being a venue that centers the voices of all bodies, gender and sex expansive identities and communities. By zooming in on desire and each its tidy and untidy manifestations we hope to place how bodies find themselves and each other in virtual and 3-D spaces in conversation with public and political norms contending with the new realities pandemic induce.
poli-cliques: political and culture war
pandemics cleave to the boundaries and fissures in society and twist them into new, often malignant nodes. The terror associated with disease, risk, exposure, and spread grab hold of our penchant for groups and induce anticipatable and unexpected realignments. In the social media age this reconfiguring is catalyzed and amplified perhaps like no other time in human history
poisoned pill: science, faith & myth
pandemics create new worlds out of our collective and individual imaginations. These new terroires are rife with opportunities to spur scientific and cultural innovation. They are also fraught with new corrosive incentives to aggrandize and succumb to our darkest fears and genocidal inclinations. Explore how the life of the mind push and pull societies across the beautiful and brutal provinces of science, myth, and myth.
To do this work in a way that is both exciting, engaging, interactive, and nuanced, our collaborators and cultural production will be anchored along four key axis:
generational: survivor insight & instincts
showcase the first-hand expertise, insight, and lived experience of survivors, artists, activists infected or deeply impacted by these pandemics;
context:parochial, regional, & global
common/familiar themes live very different lives as we move in, through, and out of local and region discourse and territories into global ones; our work hopes to elucidate these distinctions and explore how they engage and co-create even as they influence unique and sometimes divergent outlooks and outcomes
dimension: disciplines & praxis
we will enlist a multi-disciplinary approach as we curate the work of our collaborators across a range of academic and creative disciplines and praxis; our systems level approach understands the value-added to curating work that arises out of multiple contexts and diverse voices.
innovation: posters and PSAs:
pandemics are dynamic material and non-material environments. They create and produce language, discourse and semiotics that marshal new communities and organizing principles. We aim to explore these histories as they draw upon discipline specific jargon(s) and historical and contemporary cultural memory to deploy instrumental and transformational memes in our virtual and physical worlds both old and new.
Could Be The Ballroom was always our Nuclear option A rock scrabble bunker become a threshing floor How we survived our Coldest War
A Mother a Father an entire house full of babies tucked into mangers woven out of street corner filament limber enough to parent those of us:
born with and with out parents with and without islands
begat inside flags with and without stripes while reading for A-level exams
stretched astride Empires and Queens too Black to be British too gay to be queer—
too poor for the crowns we deserve
Boys and girls born beyond signage onto intersections above and below 42nd street where hormones traffic themselves,
Run all the rules. Busts all the lights cum shot out of blackness too Pentecostal for its own beneficence
Could Be the Ballroom Scene laid its own bedrock atop an inference. As if by subterfuge. As if by stagecraft. As if by premonition:
The way we live The way we die The way we transition
In and out of space In and out of time In and out of academies & boarding schools With and without degrees.
In and out of dimension The lives we all span is a performance
1986: What a performance it was! In the year of our Lord June 30, 1986 adjudicating case: 478 U.S. 186 otherwise known as Bowers v. Hardwick the Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s Sodomy laws in a 5-4 decision.
This year 1986 according to dissenting Justice Blackmun—enjoined by William Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall and John Paul Stevens—our nation’s highest court became “obsessively focused on homosexual activity”
So happens this same year 1986 a midsummer night’s dream is bequeathed to Reverend Charles Angel; a new faith begins its practice inside the living rooms of Black Gay men fagged playing Russian roulette with their secrets the waters break. Gay Men of African Descent is born
June 14, 1986 Daniel Garret freebases on a James Baldwin line: “Our history is each other” and a group of Black Gay Men exhale enough pride inside a writer’s workshop to inscribe for themselves a new nation:
I cared not how rich he was How Caribbean he was How Ivy League his poison oak How much southern fruit pickled his veins
When My Brother Fell
I cared not how many Prospect Park trees bear witness to his lovemaking. I paid no attention to which butch-queen-voguing-fem he was fucking in between bushes
Or to how big how thick how heavy the thorns
he let ride his back into Heaven
When My Brother Fell I picked up his weapons and never questioned The category he walked how much make-up he had on or which label she wore behind closed doors
I never questioned If his momma knew If his daddy cared
I kept walking
Essex said, “there was no one lonelier than you Joseph” 30 years later, we not gon’ do it that way this time The Ballroom collapses whole classes into nations
Every call gets a response Every name every category every non-binary is an intention
A Universal law makes its own rules Divines its own boundaries causing legends to be born
While Paris Burns Assoto’s Saints and Willie’s Ninjas stand guard
a whole river of boys born without bones boys born without spoons let alone silver
bright boys born on islands in between boroughs that rupture beneath their salt water promise
Somehow the Ballroom always knew why Boys and Girls born too-fluid-for-homes
Essex said, “If we must die on the front line don’t let loneliness Kill us”
If There’s a Cure For This I Don’t Want It
1986 1986 1986 is a house song at morning mass a break beat, a beat box, a carol, a love song, a dirge a Brooklyn Children’s Museum born again inside a Donald Woods’ forest
1986 is a GMAD, an NMAC, an ADODI a god-accented ebonic surviving for Joseph, for Essex, for Donald, for Willie, for Assoto Saint, for Craig Harris
For all Us born Survivors of the Coldest War With and without parents.
Born too gay, too queer for the crowns we deserve.
*Images are from ‘Bobó for Yemanjá’, a February 9th event celebrating Love Positive Women 2020 in NYC at which Brad performed 1986 and other poems.
 In Atlanta, Georgia, August 1982 Michael Hardwick was issued a citation for drinking in public. Hardwick missed his court date and an arrest warrant was issued. However, before receiving the warrant, Hardwick paid the $50 fine. Nevertheless, two weeks later, police arrived at Harwick’s home, were admitted by roommate, and found Hardwick in his bedroom having sex with another man. The police arrested Hardwick and his companion for sodomy, a felony under Georgia law. Hardwick challenged the statute’s constitutionality in Federal District Court with the support of the ACLU. The case challenging the constitutionality of Georgia’s sodomy laws reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986. The Court issued a divided opinion holding that there was no constitutional protection for acts of sodomy, and that states could outlaw those practices. The case drew attention to sodomy laws across the country and in the years that followed several state legislatures repealed such laws. Finally, in 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas the Supreme Court overturned its ruling in the Bowers v. Hardwick case and invalidated the 13 remaining state sodomy laws insofar as they applied to private consensual conduct among adults.
 Charles Angel (1952-1986), a Pentecostal minister, community organizer, social advocate, and activist, who helped found the organization, Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD).
 Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) was founded in 1986 with the mission of advancing the welfare of black gay men through education, social support, political advocacy, and health and wellness promotion. (For more information see the NYPL Archives and Manuscripts)
 Daniel Garret was a member of the Blackheart Collective, founded in 1980 by the Harlem-born Isaac Jackson. Blackheart members, all New York City-based black gay artists, produced a literary journal. The publication sought to queer dominant black intellectual traditions such as Afrocentrism and extend the gay liberation movement’s concern with prisoner rights and prison reform to a broader race- and class-based critique of carceral state power. The Blackheart collective disbanded in 1985.
 Other Countries was a writer’s workshop formed to develop, disseminate, and preserve the diverse cultural expressions of black gay men. The group produced two journals in the early years of the AIDS crisis, Other Countries: Black Gay Voices (1988) and the book-length Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS (1993).
 Joseph Beam was born December 30, 1954, in Philadelphia. He studied journalism at Franklin College in Indiana where he was an active member of the Black Student Union. Back in Philadelphia in the early 1980s, Beam got a job at Giovanni’s Room, a GLBT bookstore and began writing news articles, personal essays, poetry, and short stories that reflected the life experiences of black Gay men. In 1984, the Lesbian and Gay Press Association honored him with an award for outstanding achievement by a minority journalist. Disappointed at the lack of published gay black male voices, he edited the pioneering anthology, In the Life (1986). Beam helped resurrect the flagging National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays—originally founded in 1978—joining the executive committee and editing the organization’s journal, Black/Out. He died of complications related to AIDS in December 1988, just three days shy of his 34th birthday. After his death, Beam’s mother and his friend Essex Hemphill completed a second anthology of black Gay men’s writing, Brother to Brother (1991), which Beam was working on when he died (extract from Liz Highleyman’s article, “Who was Joseph Beam?” for Seattle News.)
 The refrain from Diana Ross’s 1976 hit song, “Love Hangover,” written by Pamela Sawyer and Marilyn McLeod. The song is one of the anthems of the House and Ballroom community.
 In 1986, the American Public Health Association (APHA) had its first AIDS workshop, and neglected to invite any HIV/AIDS or medical leaders of color to the event. Craig Harris crashed the meeting, taking the stage and the microphone from Dr. Merv Silverman, the San Francisco Health Commissioner. This was the genesis of a national movement and the founding moment of the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) that quickly became a voice for communities of color, spreading awareness of the disproportionate impact that HIV/AIDS had on their communities (see https://gay-sd.com/the-national-minority-aids-council-they-will-be-heard/).
 Leaders of prominent minority AIDS organization nationwide – including Paul Kawata, Gil Gerald, Calu Lester, Don Edwards, Timm Offutt, Norm Nickens, Craig Harris, Carl Bean, Suki Ports, Marie St.Cyr and Sandra McDonald – started the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) in response to the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) failure to invite anyone of color to participate on the panel at its first ever AIDS workshop in 1986. NMAC members met with U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop when he was writing his historic report on the AIDS. Originally scheduled for just 15 minutes the meeting lasted nearly two and half hours. More than three decades later, HIV still disproportionately impacts communities of color and NMAC continues to provide public policy education programs, conferences, treatment and research programs initiatives, trainings, and electronic and printed resource materials (see http://www.nmac.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/History.pdf).
 Audre Lorde (1934-1992) dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Lorde was born in New York City to West Indian immigrant parents. She earned her BA from Hunter College and Master in Library Sciences from Columbia University. She was a librarian in the New York public schools throughout the 1960s. She had two children with her husband, Edward Rollins, a white, gay man, before they divorced in 1970. In 1972, Lorde met her long-time partner, Frances Clayton and began teaching as poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College. Lorde articulated early on the intersections of race, class, and gender in canonical essays such as “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984) collected Lorde’s nonfiction prose and has become a canonical text in Black studies, women’s studies, and queer theory. In the late 1980s Lorde and fellow writer Barbara Smith founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, which was dedicated to furthering the writings of black feminists.
 ADODI was born in 1986 in Philadelphia as a movement of same gender loving men of African descent. “Adodi” is the plural of “Ado,” a Yoruba word that describes a man who “loves” another man. The Adodi of the tribe are thought to embody both male and female ways of being and were revered as shamans, sages. and leaders. Adodi currently has chapters in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, DC. (see: http://www.adodi.org/)
Essex Hemphill (1967-1995) was a writer who addressed race, identity, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, and the family in his work. His first full-length poetry collection, Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (1992), won the National Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual New Author Award. He edited the anthology Brother to Brother: New Writing by Black Gay Men (1991). His work is featured in the documentaries Tongues Untied (1989), Black Is … Black Ain’t (1994), and Looking for Langston (1989). Hemphill died of complications from AIDS in 1995.
The Vale of Cashmere is a secluded patch of wilderness in Prospect Park that’s been the unofficial locus of gay cruising in Brooklyn since the 1970s. In his short story, “Summer Chills” in Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men, Rory Buchanan writes: “When I got there, I found the park filled with men in the same horny, hungry state of mind I was in … I can’t remember ever seeing so many gorgeous black men in any one place.”
Assotto Saint (1957-1994) was a Haitian-born, pioneering poet, author, performance artist, musician, editor, human rights and AIDS activist, theatrical founder, and dancer. Saint was among the first Black activists to disclose his HIV positive status, and one of the first poets to include the AIDS crisis in his work. After graduating from Jamaica High School in New York City, he enrolled as a pre-med student at Queens College. In 1980, Saint fell in love with Jaan Urban Holmgren, a Swedish-born composer with whom he began collaborating on a number of theatrical and musical projects. Their relationship would last 14 years. They were both diagnosed as HIV positive in 1987. The death of his partner Jaan Urban Holmgren in 1993 profoundly affected Saint. In his poem, “Wishing for Wings,” he concludes that no words can convey his despair over Holmgren’s death. Saint died of AIDS-related complications on June 29, 1994. He had requested that, in protest of the indifference of American society to those dying of AIDS, that the American flag be burned at his funeral and its ashes scattered on his grave. Holmgren and Saint are buried side-by-side at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn.
Willi Ninja (1961-2006) was a dancer, performance artist, and choreographer who was featured in “Paris is Burning.” He was a self-taught dancer who was perfecting his vogueing style by his twenties. As mother of the House of Ninja, he became a New York celebrity, and give modelling stars like Naomi Campbell pointers early in their careers. He also inspired Madonna and her 1990 hit song and music video, “Vogue.” In 2004, Willi Ninja opened a modelling agency, EON (Elements of Ninja), but continued to dance, appearing on the television series “America’s Next Top Model” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and dropping in at local clubs. Willie Ninja died of AIDS-related heart failure in New York City on September 2, 2006, at the age of 45.
 Donald Woods (1958-1992) was a poet, singer, and creative worker based in Brooklyn. He earned a bachelor’s degree at The New School and did postgraduate study in arts administration. His work as a writer began with his involvement in the Blackheart Collective. He studied with Audre Lorde and participated in Other Countries, a black gay men’s writing workshop. Woods was one of several authors of “Tongues Untied,” Marlon T. Riggs’s film about black gay men. He also appeared in Riggs’s film, “No Regrets.” (see: https://www.nytimes.com/1992/06/29/obituaries/donald-w-woods-34-aids-film-executive.html)
This article was originally published in ArtsEverywhere on Feb 27th, 2020.
[*From February 9-11, 2020, Luv ’til it Hurts was busy in NYC. LUV participated in Love Positive Women (a project by Jessica Lynn Whitbread) with a poetry and food-inspired event ‘LUV YEMANJÁ’. Food and a series of handmade porcelain candles were offered by artist Thiago Gonçalves and poet Brad Walrond offered a version of his work ‘1986’ paired with other poems to suit the occasion. On the following two days, a group including Jakub Szczęsny, Eric Rhein, Todd Lester, Brad Walrond, Paula Nishijima, Paula Querido Van Erven worked on the hopeful next phase of the LUV project. Within this process were statements describing the project from individual viewpoints, such as this one by Brad. xo Todd]
Luv ‘til it Hurts reminds us how proximal and interwoven our histories [are] regardless the presumed, apparent distances between the bodies, identities, and castes our worlds have suited for us. Perhaps in each [of] the futures we all must inevitably occupy, HIV/AIDS will have always been more metaphor than acronym; the Universe—even the portion that belongs to Us—is the occupant of an accident recovering it’s purpose. A virus expresses as much as it destroys; binds, deconstructs, creates, recreates its own kinds of becoming.
That pleural vacuum into which it catapults us, it’s undertow of grief, stigma, loss, shame pulls us each closer towards a corporal remuneration of our otherwise carefully tilled, fiercely guarded boundaries. Perhaps we discover, by the sheer performance of survival, that the threads now begging us together, have been there all along. Survival here becomes the enactment of hope against hope—a remaking, a re-fashioning, a reconfiguring, a re-imagining of our lost and future selves.
It is as if our bodies are made to become sites of discovery unto themselves. As if by force of opportunity and accident we infect a kind of prescience replicating inside an utterly human omen—being whomever we were cannot achieve us a habitable future. Perhaps living with and being impacted by some thing so summarily universal that has already changed the future, has already, by its sheer defiance, made its own impression on a species’ ambition and dreams, shows us life itself can be renewed. Shows us there must always be novel, crucial, life-giving ways for a human kind to rub and touch and agree.
Luv ‘til it Hurts as a moving recombinant collaborative show quite literally embodies the terror and the hope of this global pandemic. It represents unique opportunities to document and reveal global and parochial histories of the infected and affected while engaging communities in a viral generative praxis of encounter, transmission, deconstruction, reconstruction, remaking, reimagining and recovery.
Luv ‘Til It Hurts was formally launched October 27, 2018 at the historic LGBTQ Center in New York City. In keeping with Luv ‘til it Hurts stated mission,
‘’to be a porous container, it aspires to ‘hold’ people together
long enough for essential introductions and exchange ideas’’
for me at the time of this writing, April 2019 it has already been a ravishing success. I launched Every Where Alien [my arts culture and content producing brand and company] in January 2019. My first project is in the form of a narrative documentary and requires travel to São Paulo. I’m thrilled Luv ‘Til It Hurts, found Every Where Alien’s project worthy of support.
I am equally thrilled by how this journey with Luv ‘Til It Hurts has placed me proximal to several astonishing artists and HIV/AIDS activists from around the world. In September by the time I walked into Kairon Liu’s New York Humans as Hosts solo photography exhibition I understood. This experience, for me, had to be more than a fiscal exchange. Kai is brave and brilliant. His art is breathtaking and layered and provocative. I was here to learn, to hear, to witness, and to breathe.
Simply put I would not have met Kai were it not for Luv ‘Til It Hurts. Quite likely neither would I have met Malaya Lakas, Philip Miner, Theodore Kerr —each all, in their own right, gifted and prodigious HIV/AIDS activists, administrators and artists.
Mine and Pony Zion’s trip to Brazil in January 2019 gave occasion for me to deepen my relationships and collaboration with the truly legendary artivist innovators Flip Couto of Festa AMEM and Félix Pimenta of the House of Zion in Brazil. I had the honor to work with the unmitigated genius of Coletivo Coloteres in capturing the footage as the two-week residency in São Paulo unfolded. And of course I got to witness firsthand the life and work of Luv ‘Til It Hurts’ founder Todd Lester.
In the course of doing this work to research and write this poem chronicling Luv ‘Til It Hurts Launch I’ve been gifted with new friendships, inspired by world-class art and activism, and the prospect of vanguard globe-spanning collaborations.
And for me, as an often reluctant and sometimes burnt out longtime HIV/AIDS activist perhaps the greatest surprise is to realize, even now after all these years, there is so much this pandemic and its survivors and activists have to teach us about but what it can plausibly mean to be human beings, and how we might co-create freer safer more vital societies for our kin—even when either ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities, are faced with withering stigma, economic injustice, health and healthcare access disparities, and yet still the prospect of dying too soon.
On the night of October 27, 2018 Pony Zion opened the Luv ‘Til It Hurts launch with a group dance performance performed to a song he wrote and produced. Flip Couto and Festa Amem and Félix Pimenta shared a video about their work and travels. I shared a poem chronicling 30 years of black queer art activist organizing and the House Ballroom Scene in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in New York City. Pony and I shared a bit about our then forthcoming Luv ‘Til it Hurts and #houselivesmatter supported residency in São Paulo. We joined our co-presenters Malaya, Phillip, Theodore (Ted) and the panel began curated and co-facilitated by Kairon Liu and Todd Lanier Lester.
To write this poem I interviewed, in the course of six months, the principal contributors to the panel at the Luv ‘Til It Hurts launch. I wanted to hear from them firsthand how and why they were drawn to the project? I wanted to learn how HIV/AIDS, art, activism and stigma has impacted their lives? I wanted to hear from them their sense of what proved meaningful in the discourse, process and exchange with the project and the audience during the event. Above all I wanted to hear their heart. I am blessed to have been present with them and I am blessed to have borne witness through their eyes and my own the legacies of HIV/AIDS then and now.
The poem is written in five parts. I wrote each section as I completed either an individual interview or a set of interviews. I wanted each section to be able to live on its own and tell its own story. I hoped to discover through the sections’ iterative and evolving interactions what the poem was truly about and how the emergent themes related to one another to tell a bigger story. I pray, however flawed, I have succeeded in hearing their hearts and learning a bit more of my own.
Across generations of continents What do it mean to be haunted?
by a virus. A bluegrass grandma in Sparta, Tennessee died today;
So did Ntozake Shange.
I wonder is it was they knew each other? Ntozake and grandma?
the yellow / the red / the Asian pacific islander / the poor poor white / the black / the trans girl / the doula / the woman / the social worker / the rich / the nuyorican / the new yawker /the southern belle / the global south /Brasil / the brown-black / AMEM and thank you /the activist / the artivist / the Zion / the poet / the visual artist / the scholar / the writer / the shunned / the convener / the loved / the forsaken
Ain’t it ?
a Universe of Us?
got queer children in common?
Somewhere in the beveled glitter of rainbows A proximal history melts us into lemon drops
America’s punk daughters and sons sure know how to tie a not
How else to cut down a noose? cept with the knife’s edge of a fem queen’s heel and an icon’s death drop
tonight Love ‘til it Hurts launched right where we landed simulcast in this historic nyc LGBT Center Auditorium on 13th Street just west of Seventh Avenue South
breathing the unrequited ash suffusing St. Vincent’s biosphere
in this west village five to six block radius a repurposed hospital building ain’t never lose it’s mission here lies a fertile field endlessly pregnant with ghosts
Where NYC’s AIDS patients had flooded-in parched for something like water & comfort on the hapless occasion of their tsunami life and death
what do it mean to be haunted by a virus?
Tonight there is a Taipei hiv-positive gay boy in here lending us an innervision. A love petri dish is bubbling over in his terrified eyes
He’s going back home soon; His country everywhere infectious with stigma
the medicine men don’t make pills for that.
Kai’s momma don’t know yet his secret. Her son a host.
His soul-force, warm porcelain, nurses a kindling tide swayed with tenderness and courage and rage and grief and joy we can all touch when we meet him
he has tasted here in nyc some portion of his soul’s own freedom the call. we hear it. don’t u?
its in the blood its in the blood-water earnest and quiet and true
It hurts to spring out of a cage smiling It hurts to bounce too hard against a Tree
In the photos he has shown us. He is calling us home
He is a gift.
He does not quite know how powerful he is yet.
row after freckled row in this ancestor scented auditorium every where in view an horizon of all-american fauna sat blowing in the fall wind
we watch at the intersection wave after seceding wave come in
ntozake’s fresh unencumbered ghost laughs in panorama with all the traffic lights
sitting to my right a tsunami flew in from Edmonton
a boy burning himself to the bone body fluid born too hot for a working class town
finds a hungry pandemic after its stolen the lion share of his bedfellows and wet-dreams left him spurned already in a hotbed of First Nation descendants and poor immigrants
a psychic says his former lover in a past life must have been a dandy from the high hills of america’s west coast
AIDS always had such fashion sense Here today gone tomorrow baroque Baudeliere bad ass.
world turned upside down negative [survey says] is a positive health outcome if only it were so simple in these blood rich oil fields reverse transcriptase trenches mine with the nuclear parochial sanctimony of a moral majority plus and minus everybody else
the top’s bottom the bottom’s top the infected and the un-infected the bound and the unbound the buttoned down and the unbuttoned the prude and the wanderlust if only our kind came readied to nurse each ours very own chance at living?
meanwhile Kai’s photos stream behind us un-announced powerful enough?
[A prayer becomes an affirmation]
to tell their own story
to teach us?
[if even by omission]
the history of unintended consequences
how silent and unbeknownst a virus haunts what it hunts to occupy the hearts and minds of its prey
This project warrants no apology the activists job is never done.
Perhaps the best ones wrastle the too tight tendons of their own too tidy towns
their own dissembled selves born biting at the bit kicking the stables
cut their teeth earn their chops cross the stigma-shorn frontiers imbued to their own origins
to discover the wealth of what it could mean to survive a pandemic before it kills you.
Whether you have it or not Whether you will get it
To find a cause, greater than oneself, throbbing with its own life beyond the boundaries of caste and circumstance
to lay among the shunned and the dying the survived and the surviving the besieged and the otherwise well off the castaway and the unmoored
in search of what is possible of a self inside the catacombs of a womanist’s theory breathing still at Union Theological Seminary right where it was found
in new york city inside the bodies of black women who had to have known long before they got there
the evidence of their own being must be for all civilization a salvation unto itself.
Now are you gonna start dressing like a girl?
Some questions bury their own answers inside the ferment whisper of unasked breath.
She was born inside the navel concave of a question marked for transition from the beginning
a Filipina girl born into someone else’s body run up the west coast Interstate 5 like a spine run up the American dream like a tourist with tangled roots
immigrant parents born knowing tourism must be a fantasy long before it is a business.
A brother in Redding California asks his teenage sibling an answer to his own redwood question
Before he outs him for talking to a boy
so seismic a proposition to ask a world for: an understanding. boys and girls are born whole and un-belonging
these parts they are shells
we can take them on we can take them off for the sake of our selves
we are quite simply who we feel we are
Rehearse with me the freedom wolverine-knit into the soul–spine of that name
She is a brook delicate and frothing There is fertility in her bones Like any fresh water river she is born caretaking A sea of west coast salmon yelping against the tide
She is an undertaking
her own precious project She intends on becoming the name of herself Over and over again
feminist courses are no panacea each intersection corset a millstone to its own precipice
we who believe in freedom can not rest we who believe in freedom can not rest until comes
for women of color
there is no way made for us we must make our way each every time
Kai too is the beginning of an answer To Malaya’s own unasked question
To see herself?
freed inside the swelling shadow of her own story To bear witness how her light must-will, so numinously, contend with that darkness
A heart pricked too young by a virus for the which she was offered no viable first or second language
with which to negotiate an actionable line of defense
PrEP PEP Had not quite begun their rally
A whole body of stories snagged between the too-titan lexicon of an aeon. AIDS HIV unspelling their own death sentence
whole acronyms still sneezing mouth uncovered their nubile stigma into a generation’s consciousness before and after they
re-imagine themselves a desiccate and crumbled fiction beneath the hard-packed weight of their own histories
There is a new way.
We who believe in freedom cannot rest We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
these young ones are making it up as they go the olde warrior’s stories are not enough for these young bloods
navigating a new virus in a haint town in a new time
they will teach us how to read the next chapter they will teach us how to listen.