For Women Living with HIV
Survivors with spindle arms and sofa bellies,
whose lovers died when they were young,
who toiled and raised their kids in isolation.
Some grew the extra neck of choking fat
the early meds gave. Some cannot retire,
sunk so deep in drug debt’s mire.
Most dismissed many years ago, any dreams
of sensuality, and struggled daily to keep
their status secret. Here’s to the women
who nursed their families, unbeknownst,
keeping church offices, doctors’
practices afloat, who made art, built monuments
to heroes, saved their schools, rescued
baby turtles, but turned from love,
fearing rejection from disclosure.
They balanced books, were fantastic cooks,
nursed our dads in ICU,
saved lives, went home alone.
They sang soprano in choirs, fed shut-ins,
counseled addicts and braided hair.
Some told their families, and were demoted
to a lonesome paper plate beside the Christmas china,
despite working nights to fund a niece’s tuition.
Here’s to survivors no one praises,
who lived in hiding―
and to those who broke their bonds of silence,
who stepped outside,
inspired others to live freely,
no longer censured by self,
no longer hostages to HIV.
Laura Secord’s poems have appeared in the Birmingham Weekly, Arts and Understanding, The Southern Women’s Review, PoemMemoirStory, Passager, the HIV Here & Now project Na(HIV)PoWriMo April 2017 online feature, and the Burning House Press poetry blog. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Sierra Nevada College. For thirty years, she combined the life of a writer and performer with a career as a nurse practitioner in HIV care. She is the co-founder of Birmingham’s Sister City Spoken Word Collective, and an editor of their upcoming anthology, Voices of Resistance.
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