As I’ve been absent once again, I did want to mention a wonderful honor: I have been published! Barking Sycamores (a journal dedicated to autism in its many forms), published my poem in the very first edition. Link to my poem HERE. Thanks to Nicole Nicholson for her outreach and sensitivity.
Now, on to poetry: This Memorial Day, I have chosen a different group of veterans, ignored and consigned to ultimate death when the illness became the subject of gossip and hateful condemnation.
Other Veterans (GMHC, 1983)
Gay community’s response to the crisis
They didn’t know what to do with
the first straight girl who strode into
the waiting room, awaiting instructions
Witnessing wills, filing, odd jobs
Then a delivery, with deliberate orders:
“To Paul Popham. Into his hands only.
Upstairs office at NYC Central PO.”
Paul Popham,* one of six founders of
Gay Men’s Health Crisis, prominent attorney
At the PO, the BS began ASAP
Never forgot their condescension
“His office,” sneered receptionist,
“round back, by the bulk mail”
This prominent attorney with
inconvenient, indelible winestains,**
consigned to makeshift quarters
Breathing delivery trucks’ diesel
contributing to possible PCP***
Far from the “healthy” ones
Greeted me, standing tall
His small frame with grey suit
and suspenders to hold up his
shrinking self, like Daddy’s clothes
Such dignity, as though still possessing
the upper office he once commanded
Our eyes met, our hands grasped
the confidential package together
He shook my hand; he opened his arms
“No shame in crying,” as I bled tears
Total resolve in facing death
even as Reagan ignored the epidemic****
I hope the president’s inaction?
haunted him the rest of his days
and beyond. In the meantime,
Paul Popham carried on his work…
And we still pray
© 2014 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
*Paul Popham (1947-1985), whose Wikipedia bio can be found HERE, was one of the first AIDS activists in 1981, when the disease was known as GRID: Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease. Paul is portrayed as “Bruce Niles” in Larry Kramer’s Pulitzer-Prizewinning play, “The Normal Heart.” The long-awaited film version will air soon on HBO. SEE IT.
** Winestainss, dark purple lesions, were visible signs of Karposi’s Sarcoma, one of the many autoimmune diseases brought on by HIV/AIDS. If you’ve seen Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in the groundbreaking film, “Philadelphia,” you will see how Hanks’ character disguised his winestains with makeup for as long as possible.
*** PCP, or pneumocystis pneumonia, was a lung-wrenching, usually quickly fatal infection of the lungs in those days. A depiction of testing for PCP can be seen in the William Hurt film, “The Doctor.”
****President Ronald Reagan was in a position to order funds for research; instead, he did nothing. He would not even utter the word “AIDS.” I am not ashamed to say that I hope this decision haunted his until his death.