HIV and Telling Stories Differently

I don’t normally post anything here but poems; a sort of laziness really. However, following a conversation on Twitter (thanks to @JamesPrescott77 and @boudledidge) this morning, and with World AIDS nearly with us, I have reproduced part of piece I wrote for Epworth Review. I offer this for your reflection:

Three visitors call on the home of Sarah and Abraham.[1] They bring a promise and a threat: a promise of life and history, a narrative that keeps a future for Sarah and Abraham and their descendants. And yet they also bear another story, a promise of death and destruction to two cities. Both of their promises become true in the context of the biblical narrative and yet to what extent their promises become normative for the lives of women and men through the world can only be contextually determined.

Let me tell the story differently.

Three visitors arrive at the home of an elderly couple. They have been married for many years but they have never had children despite their hopes. Their land will one day pass to other kin, or strangers, because they do not have a child who will hold and care for their land, and keep their name upon it. These visitors, though, bring a word; a word of hope it seems. The three visitors tell the father and mother of no-one, that they will be the father and mother of a great nation; they will have descendants greater in number than the stars, or the grains of sand in the desert places. Such words seem impossible. Such things do not happen for people as old as Abraham and Sarah.

But this is not the end of the news they bring, for there is another word that must be heard. What is that word? These three visitors who have enjoyed the company of Abraham and Sarah have a journey to complete. God has sent them to bring judgement on two cities that have turned themselves against God and his ways. These cities have given themselves up to decay and they will be wiped from the face of the earth; they will be the dust as their bodies crumble, and decay in the earth. These three visitors are challenged by Abraham: surely if there are innocent people there you will not destroy? The bartering over life continues until there is accord and, glimmer of hope arises before them on their departing horizon.

Two of the travellers arrive in a city but their night, there, is a night of hate, abuse and threats of murder. In the home of Lot and his family, they are berated by men who come to seek them, who want their bodies for sex. Lot offers his daughters to the crowd, to save the men from rape. Better an innocent daughter is raped to appease the cries of the crowd than these men are subjected to the demands of the city’s men.

But it is too late, the judgement is set. The lives and the cities will be forfeit, wiped from the earth; these will be the dust of the desert earth.

Are the women, the wives and the daughters of these baying men guilty in the eyes of God? Are they not counted amongst those that were needed to bring hope to the city and deliver it from destruction?

Would you really want to welcome these visitors?

HIV un-holy trinity

You wandered in, talked of life,

before creeping up on unexpected hosts

infected husband, daughter, wife,

and left a trail of mounting ghosts

whose innocence was not discussed

as you traded lives, with chosen sons,

who bartered, begged, and reasoned

‘til the cities fell at your behest

and bodies became just dust and sand

lying in the desert ground.


Let me tell you a parallel narrative. She is 13 and living in a small town. Families here are not what they once were. There was a time when there were couples and children everywhere; grandparents, parents, children, uncles and aunts all side by side. But then visitors came to the town. No-one saw the visitors at first; they were very discreet. They were carried here with some of the men after they returned from months working away. The visitors made their home amongst the villagers, but while they were always there no-one ever saw them. They hid in the most subtle ways and just got on making new acquaintances and settling in to people’s lives and no-one seemed to mind. The villagers fed the visitors, but did not notice any more food being eaten; they sustained the visitors but did not even notice what was being taken. Then some of the men became ill. As they tired the visitor’s faces began to show on the bodies of the men. Lesions started to trace the identity of the visitors and slowly the men began to die. It did not take a long time for the women to realise that the visitors had made their home within their bodies too. They’d never invited them to stay, but they had forced themselves upon them, infected their lives and now children were fading too.

In a generation a town had seen its people becoming the dust of the desert and now there were no longer grandparents, and parents and children and aunties and uncles in abundance. Now there were spaces and dust where bodies had once moved. Now there were men who called for the bodies of virgins, so when Lot offered his daughter, just 13, there was an uncle in the crowd who wanted her. A virgin, and negative, she would be his redemption, his salvation and safety, but he is sick and she will be soon.[2]

[1] Cf. Genesis 18.1-19.28. While I will not address it directly here, as reader, you might want to read on to the end of chapter 19 as it implies a complexity of incest that is woven in the early Hebrew narratives. To what extent such stories become formative narratives for myth and superstition around HIV and AIDS is unknown and I do not wish to attempt to address that connection here – only to raise it as a question.

[2] For work on the abuse of girls, infection of wives by husbands in Africa see: UNDP & UNAIDS, Factsheet: UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS, Geneva: New York, June 2001 which highlights, ‘Many men accept the myth that virgins can cleanse a man of HIV and AIDS so girl-children are subjugated to sexual violence in public and in the home, by both strangers and relations.’ p.15-16. This is a contributing reason as to why in Southern Africa young girls are four times more likely to be get HIV and AIDS than boys of the same age. (Source Dube, 2008). The UNDP Report goes on to say that 80% of women in stable relationships are infected by their spouses who are not faithful. p.22. This report, and others, are drawn on by Dube, M.W., The HIV and AIDS Bible: Selected Essays, Chicago: University of  Seranton Press, 2008; A further source is Cimperman, M., When God’s People Have HIV/AIDS: An Approach to Ethics, Maryknoll: Orbis, 2005 who covers again the statistcal information in Ch. 1. 



Lunar Love

This lunar love lingers to dispel the night hours’ darkness

suspended orb reflecting light, illuminates and comforts;

cloud obscures her radiance, or makes the light diffuse;

she peers amidst the heavens; hid from sight, but not cut loose.


This lunar love is naked before the sight of all,

a desert of isolation, adored by a distant star

The maria, seas with no waves, frozen in time and space

await a touch to move them, their dust a resting place.


This lunar love is silence, where footsteps lay unmoved

Trampled by passing lovers, she is history’s modern mood.

Debris of millennia, scars from fallen passers by,

drawn by her siren song, she turns her head and lets them lie.


Painful Poetry? Trying to explain why.

This is not a poem, simply an explanation. I realise if you have read these poems you will have quickly realised I don’t tend to write about happy things. I would like too, and I have a few failed examples in my collection, but the truth is I find pain and darkness are the things I need to speak of. In meeting, living with, or considering those things, words begin to form together.

For me it has become strangely redemptive to try and offer quite difficult experiences, places, and stories, in words that I hope speak honestly with beauty. There is much that I have not yet put up here. Poems that speak of dying, Alzheimer’s, depression, situations of domestic abuse, so much more, and I will continue to bring them to this place, slowly, as the time is right.

For those who read and find a story here that makes sense, I am grateful.




Vodka Tears; Pint Sized Lie – Two poems about? Well think that’s fairly obvious.

Vodka Tears

 The night is a cold regret

where vodka

traces lines in the glass;

tears collect like ice

that cools the whole

and yet the bitterness lingers.

A residue sleeps

in the recess of the glass

but who will dispel it

and cast it to the gut or gutter.



Pint sized lie

The darkness is topped

by that faint white hope;

beneath it lies a consolation,

a false comfort.

It will numb for a while

before it betrays

to misery


Tears in Starbucks

I remember being in Starbucks one afternoon and one of the staff there was obviously upset as she spoke on her phone. I did not intrude on her story I just wrote:

Rain falls in decorated streets

as Christmas rings its November notes,

but she sits,


a foetal retreat,

as tears narrate sadness

to customers who glance to notice.

This mystery of her rivulets  

is not the story she will tell


            Has her lover gone?

            Her mother died?

            Her visa expired?


Each possibility, and more,

are numbered

as Christmas rings its November notes. 

The Fox and Grape

This was written while taking a weeks break at St Deiniol’s library in Hawarden. I frequented the pubs at the top of the lane and the name of one got me thinking:


The fox and grape are striving;

One to escape, one to surrender.


My life is fleeing

the raging sound

of hound and master,

horse and horn.

They hunt me to collapse,

I flee and founder.

Tenacious teeth not forbidden their plunder.


I am ripened to perfection,

pluck me, pummel me,

squeeze my life to freedom.

That I might kiss

as berry, or oak,

the tongue of a welcome stranger.