The third time CJ
came in for an HIV test
it was positive. I paced
my office like a caged animal,
prepared to deliver his results.
He gasped when I said CJ, your
test is positive. Silent tears traversed
his downy cheeks as he shook his head.
How am I going to tell he whispered,
the next words nearly inaudible,
He left, phone numbers for the HIV clinic,
support group, counseling hotline
stuffed in his jean jacket.
I filled out the standardized report.
Gender: male. Age: 22.
Mode of transmission: I searched
for a place to write luck ran out
but health department forms, unlike
election ballots, don’t permit
That night I eat dinner with my sons;
while they talk about school,
math tests, band practice,
I picture another son
who sits with his mother, stares out
the dining room window at purple finches
and cardinals in a bird feeder,
struggles to begin an impossible conversation.
Delaware native Nina Bennett is the author of Sound Effects (Broadkill Press Key Poetry Series, 2013). Nina has worked in the HIV/AIDS field since the beginning of the epidemic. She was among the first in her state to be certified to perform anonymous HIV counseling and testing. She also served as a buddy, facilitated a support group, and worked as an HIV/AIDS case manager. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Napalm and Novocain, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Houseboat, Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, Philadelphia Stories, and The Broadkill Review. Awards include 2014 Northern Liberties Review Poetry Prize, second-place in poetry book category from the Delaware Press Association (2014), and a 2012 Best of the Net nomination.
This poem originally appeared in Spaces Between Us: Poetry, Prose and Art on HIV/AIDS (Third World Press, 2010).