Words AIDS Day 2016

A poem a day by a different poet for the month leading up to World AIDS DAy 2016. Visit our SUBMITTABLE SITE to SUBMIT poems for the HIV Here & Now Print Anthology (forthcoming in 2017).

Poem 21 ± November 21, 2016

Roxanne Hoffman
Once Bitten

It’s been written, though never proved
that once bitten, by one less than thrice removed
from the source of the venom ― the plumed serpent rattling ―
that each night, thereafter, your soul alights upon black crepe wings.

You hear the hyena’s laughter howling insidious within your ear,
and though your flesh may crawl, goose-bumped with fear,
you’ll seek another bite to assuage the first bite’s sting
though you know in your heart of hearts it will only bring

you closer closer to the very deadly devil you dread,
but there’s hunger gnawing at your gut that must be fed,
a tumultuous torrent of anguish that never wanes
with no bedrock or floodgates so solid as to keep it contained.

So each night you cry out demanding relief,
seek that exalted moment no matter how brief,
drawn to an elusive elixir to salve your wound,
but once it’s relished, you’re forever tainted, forever ruined.

It’s been said, but never been proved
that once fed upon, by one more than twice removed
that the craving can be conquered and the heartache endured
if your love for a woman is steadfast and hers self-assured.

If for three days and a fortnight she stays true at your side
the blood lust within you may completely subside,
but if she succumbs, falls prey to your peril,
you’ll run with the wolf pack, invoke savagery feral.


roxanne-hoffmanRoxanne Hoffman is the founding publisher of Poets Wear Prada. Her poems have appeared in Amaze, Best Poem, Champagne Shivers, Danse Macabre, Hospital Drive, Lucid Rhythms, Mirror Dance, Nomad’s Choir, Red River Review, Shaking Like a Mountain, Word Slaw, and others journals, as well as in numerous anthologies and performances.

This poem appeared in The Riverside Poetry Workshop; SNM Dark Poetry; Dark Gothic Resurrected; Scarlet Literary Magazine; and Stolen Moments.

Poem 20 ± November 20, 2016

Merrill Cole
Warm Brother

Around my head the ghost face rolls,
unsteady halo, stolen gold,
radioactive discharge
burning off, all I could never
bring myself to bless. Lopsided man,

can you say or guess what fig leafs
your cold nakedness, the half-life
of quarter-loves, shadow figures
against the wall—all man, or
maybe doll? Who cannot touch

himself, whose pleading seems record
of an instrument that scrapes off crust
of sentiment, that wind-up talk:
I want to swallow you, I will
peel away your wings. The wet grin

slides into my undefended
mouth. Staccato laughter rings out:
hot spit flying into emptiness,
biohazard semen and piss.
This upbeat ballad played backwards,

phantom twin, an automaton
bruising out the numbers again,
x-ray trespass, you cannot see,
curse lipped in the mirror, warmer
brother—ultraviolet—almost me.

Merrill Cole

Merrill Cole is Professor of English at Western Illinois University and the Advisor for the newly established interdisciplinary undergraduate Minor in Queer Studies. He is the author of The Other Orpheus: A Poetics of Modern Homosexuality, as well as numerous essays and poems. A recent Fulbright scholar in Berlin, Germany, he translated Anita Berber and Sebastian Droste’s 1923 Dances of Vice, Horror, and Ecstasy. Merrill has been HIV+ since 1989. He lives in rural Illinois with his husband, Rick Ponce, and three cats.

Poem 13 ± November 13, 2016

Matthew Cook
An Appetite for Distances

Let’s talk about dawn,

a state,

though foggy territory
without coffee.
To understand this feeling
is to see part
of the rock in the palm

hiding the bruise it leaves.
The morning air
shines slick as china saucers.

Location is a relationship,
an appetite
for distances. Someone

plays a saxophone
in the parking structure.
The music takes risks,
its art so breathless
commuters grab for air
in wake of departing trains.

The music ends in lullaby—
Soft, now, the windows must
be dreaming. Let them finish.


matthew-coolMatthew Cook’s poems have appeared in Muzzle, HocTok, Assaracus, Penumbra, The Squaw Valley Review, Cactus Heart, and Howlarium, among others. He was awarded the Stewart Prize for his creative writing while earning his BA in Literature and Writing at the University of California, San Diego. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was both a Maytag Fellow and an Alberta Kelly Fellow in poetry. Matthew works as a researcher and lives in Eugene, Oregon. Please find him at matthew-cook.org

Poem 19 ± November 19, 2016

James Langdon
The Night Thor Brought News of Uncle Bruce’s AIDS to Howell Hollow

Thunderous booms stiffened my back
and brought coherence
to my underdeveloped piss brain,
as rapid-fire lightening stalks
lit up the back forty every quarter second
for at least the first half-minute
I glanced out my bedroom window
onto the rolling false Earth.

I stammered out of bed to see
if my grandparents would survive this
catastrophic act,
which, by now has surely claimed the lives
of numerous chickens and cattle.
My soft white heels flattened
warped linoleum with each fluid
skate towards the kitchen, as Thor’s
angry storm ceased, prevailing
a bottomless silence,
broken by unbridled weeping. Slowly,
I superseded the doorway plane,
when a crushing reality
bubbled my line of sight,
sobbing grandmother, clinched to telephone receiver,
pillared by my grandfather’s
cast iron vulnerability.

Grandpa glanced
me back to my room.
I goose-stepped dispassionately to my bed,
where the universe and I
fell back into sleep,


logoJames Langdon is a poet living in Bloomington, Indiana. He writes, “In 1986, my uncle called our sheltered, rural community from San Francisco to reveal that he had AIDS and was in the terminal stages. This was still during the time when AIDS had not been adequately researched, and homosexuality was overall unaccepted, especially in our community. I was a child when my grandparents received the news, but I remember it very vividly. The entire experience, the disease, seemed like a myth so far removed from our safe little community. The impact to our family, however, was very, very real.”

Poem 18 ± November 18, 2016

Levi Mericle

How we remember, what we remember,
and why we remember form the most personal map of our individuality.
—Christina Baldwin

Forgive me Father,
but I am not a dying age.
not a lopsided heart cage you pretend to enter.

Where all you’ll find here is barbed wire
the rotted stench of heartbreak-meat
a dusty eulogy that was never read.

But instead you’ll find the polished gleam of another
the intoxicating embrace of a soulmate.
A masterpiece ending to the story written by the stars.

Forgive me Mother,
but I am not a postdated check
or a reserved royalty.

a loveless egg-sack the hen abandoned
a token black hand you shake but know is dirtied
a chuckle in your frogged throat by the mere mention of my affliction.

No, I am a welcomed tourist in the land of embrace.
A carpenter with sculpted words and enduring tools a mother would be proud of.

Forgive me Brother,
but I am not a cobblestone staircase.
an ancient walk-place you have to bear.

it’s a troubled trod for you isn’t it brother?
A beckoned, godless terrain your feet must endure
a callused journey you’ll never want to take again.

But I am pillow-cased yellow brick road.
a foundation,
a pathway that will lead you home.

Forgive me Sister,
but I am not a lost cause with a simple clause
a freckle nosed brother you cherished once in a daydream.

I was never par for your course.
Always coarse in a smoothened jester of compassion
hollowed in ways I never understood until now.

Forgiveness must be earned.

And I am not graphite in a lead-penciled world.

I will write my signature
among every other on earth
in the book eternity will remember–

in a book eternity will read.


levi-j-mericleLevi J. Mericle is a poet/spoken-word artist, lyricist and fiction writer from Tucumcari, New Mexico. Currently he is associated with the New Mexico State Poetry Society and gives readings from his work. His work has appeared in multiple anthologies and can be seen in many lit magazines and journals from over half a dozen countries such as Black Heart Magazine, Mused, Flash Fiction Magazine, eFiction India, Awakenings Review, University of Madrid’s literary magazine and more. He is an advocate for the anti bullying movement as well as an advocate for the LGBTQ community.

Poem 17 ± November 17, 2016

Miguel Murphy

Because the storms, white emissions, emissaries
of spring come spilling

winter too—
He looked

into my face
as if leaning into a mirror

he could not
drink. Please—

Your bone structure is superb.
Your heart is haute couture.

The plague has petals handsomer than yours.

As if pleasure had a counterfeit.

As if there were a way to protect yourself
against a vast night slicked inside another

human body. Heart, seed,
tearful silence,

thirst. His face darkening
the gulf in him,

like the truth—
the blood test.

Green moon, cupped shadow.
Skin, my bright cloak.

When he told me, he didn’t
know, what could he say—

That wet, ugly glean. His face,
shining like a thirst,

shining in the desert
of contemporary men, like me.
Younger, healthier and eager.


miguel-murphyMiguel Murphy is the author of Detainee and A Book Called Rats, winner of the Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry. He lives in Los Angeles where he teaches at Santa Monica College.

Poem 16 ± November 16, 2016

Benjamin Garcia

After Frida Kahlo’s The Broken Column

My backbone is my stem,
my head the bud, brain-pink
layered petals, a whirlpool’s rictus
tugs the sepal skull to bloom—
break, bedazzle, bumble my innards
outward. A god/flower/girl said:
if a flower opens, it means I want you
to try to slam me shut—good luck!


Benjamin GarciaBenjamin Garcia is a CantoMundo fellow who received his MFA from Cornell University. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in: Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review Online, As/Us, West Branch Wired, PANK, and The Collagist. He works for a non-profit as a Community Health Specialist providing HIV/HCV/STD prevention education and testing to higher risk communities throughout the Finger Lakes region of New York State.

This poem appeared in PANK.

Poem 15 ± November 15, 2016

R. Zamora Linmark
Split-Second Serenity

This afternoon I read about the time
Tim was admitted to Ward G-9 for AIDS
complications. Former lovers,
magazine editors, and writers
with drag aliases also dropped by,
as themselves or as apparitions.
But every night, at around six,
his lover Chris arrived to coax Tim
into finishing his meal, weep in
Tim’s embrace, until the last second
of visiting hours. Most time, though,
Tim was alone, building a poem
that wouldn’t, couldn’t, stop growing,
as if it had a memory of its own,
tricked itself into believing that
staying unfinished meant more
time to disappear—an inverted
Scheherazade, you could say,
except we all know remembering
is tied to forgetting and cruelty.

Suddenly, I forgot where in Tim’s
unending poem—if he were already
buried by an avalanche of love
or comparing the size of death
with someone from Marseilles—but
everything around me grew calm,
a split-second serenity
that required full submission.
And I, powerless and superstitious
to such visitation, started weeping.
For the life of me, I couldn’t stop,
because Jorge was suddenly back
in full drag regalia en route to Tour Eiffel
before training it south to Rome for
a surprise splash à la Anita Ekberg
at the Trevi fountain. He dragged
along a suitcase of cocktails, rubbing
alcohol, Betadine swabs, a Styrofoam
cooler for the bags of IV antibiotics
I once watched him inject through a PIC
line above his heart. Then Stephen
chimed in, said, “Let’s happy hour.
Hula’s in half hour. Will shower now.”

His lover William, our girlfriend Lisa,
and I got there first, ordered the
Sunday special: highball glass of
piña colada garnished with pineapple
wedge and, for the sakura effect,
a floating pink parasol toothpick.
We waited the length of three slow
rounds, took turns speaking to Stephen’s
answering machine, until worry
drove us speeding to his condo.
There, we found him, standing
and shivering under the shower
for god knows how long, in a daze,
recalling nothing, everything falling,
water after water after water.


r_zamora_linkmarkR. Zamora Linmark is the author of The Evolution of a Sigh and Drive-By Vigils published by Hanging Loose Press. He’s also published the novels Leche (Coffee House Press) and Rolling the R’s (Kaya Press). Forthcoming are These Books Belong to Ken Z, a Young Adult novel from Delacorte Press/Random House, and the poetry collection Pop Verity. Born in Manila and raised in Honolulu, he divides his writing time between Manila and Honolulu.

Poem 14 ± November 14, 2016

Oz Hardwick

Even hummingbirds are heavier than air,
their weight measured in sincerity,
their wings husks of forgetfulness.

I don’t want to acknowledge their falling,
their downward dance to feathers
stuffed into pillows on a dull brass bed,

so, instead, I will call into question
the wider relations between components:
bed, sky, all uncertain moments.

The murmuration shifts course.
What is it about? What can we learn?


oz-hardwickOz Hardwick‘s latest poetry collection is The Ringmaster’s Apprentice (Valley Press, 2014), and he is co-author, with Amina Alyal, of the Saboteur-shortlisted Close as Second Skins (IDP, 2015). Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, and has written extensively on misericords and animal iconography in the Middle Ages under the name Paul Hardwick.

Poem 12 ± November 12, 2016

Jason Schneiderman

There’s a movie about a woman who can’t love God.

It’s a terrible movie. Low budget. Poorly acted.

It’s clumsy and obvious, but I used to watch it over and over

because it had something I needed. A woman, who,

visited by God, cannot love him. Her husband is dead,

her daughter too, both murdered, not senselessly,

but by a man they had tried to help, a man who took

revenge for something that was his own fault. Life,

in the movie, is a test. Life is a test, that in her suffering,

she has passed, except that in having suffered, she cannot

love God, and is refused, by her own honesty, from

the Kingdom of heaven. What the movie says is that life

is not a test. What the movie says is that even if life

is a designed to be a test, that we cannot help but love it

so much that it is everything, and we are right

to love our lives in such a way that we could even refuse heaven,

if it meant giving up on what we have here. It has been

years since I watched that movie, and I think perhaps

it’s because now, at the end of every day, I get to lie down

next to you, and that as long as your arm holds me firm

as I enter the country of sleep, I will never have to choose

between you and heaven.


Marion Ettlinger
Marion Ettlinger

Jason Schneiderman is the author of Primary Source, winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award from Red Hen Press; Striking Surface, winner of the Richard Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press; and Sublimation Point, A Stahlecker Selection from Four Way Books. His poetry and essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, Poetry London, Grand Street, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, Story Quarterly, and Tin House, among others. Jason has received fellowships from Yaddo, The Fine Arts Work Center, and The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He was the recipient of the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America in 2004 and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award in 2011. He is Poetry Editor of the Bellevue Literary Review, and Associate Editor at Painted Bride Quarterly.  Jason Schneiderman is an Associate Professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, part of the City University of New York.

This poem is not previously published.