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On HIV/AIDS, poet challenges you to not look away

Today is the 258th day that Michael Broder has published a poem on HIV.

The online collection, titled HIV Here & Now, is a yearlong project by Broder to publish one poem a day leading up to June 5, 2016. That day will mark the 35th anniversary of the day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published its first paper on five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in young gay men in Los Angeles, marking the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.

Broder said he first thought of the project last April during a conference in Minneapolis, when he attended readings by several other people who, like him, wrote about the experience of living with HIV.

He wanted to continue that conversation with a wider range of voices, including young people, people of color, queer, trans and gender nonconforming people, and people who do not have HIV. “I am starting to challenge people to not look away,” he said.

The project takes submissions online and so far has published work by a number of poets ranging from high school seniors to contemporary poets Marie Howe and Elizabeth Alexander. Poems can be on any topic, and the poet can be of any HIV status. A selection of poems from the project will be published as a print anthology this fall.

Broder said that conversations in the literary community around AIDS can treat the disease as something that only exists in the past. “There’s a perception that AIDS is something that happened in the 80s and 90s and now we have effective treatments and it’s over,” he said.

It can be a challenge to find poets who want to address HIV/AIDS as a present reality, he said. “This is a way to make HIV more visible again, visible to some people who might not be thinking about it,” Broder said.

In “October 18, 1990” — titled after the day Broder received a positive HIV test result — he discusses the effect of the virus on a budding relationship with his now-husband. The piece shifts in imagery and metaphor, grasping to find the vocabulary to describe their serodiscordant relationship.

The poem will appear in a new collection of Broder’s poems forthcoming in April.

You can listen to Broder read his piece or read it below.

October 18, 1990

God loves an expiration date. —Jason Schneiderman

Best when used
before date stamped on top,
sell-by date,
freshness date,
date of my diagnosis,
my spoilage.
I was better used before, safer.
But 10 years post-expiration,
you found me on a shelf,
intriguing, older
dating someone else.
You deemed me a safe emotional bet:
hypochondria would protect you,
you could never love a disease vector,
sustain such high risk.
But the heart doesn’t work that way,
and we were each other’s bashert,
the Jewish version of Zeus’s scales,
tossed dice.
Loving me, you had no choice
but to make good use of my infection.
You took it like a height to be defended,
built walls around it,
turrets, aimed your guns.
I knew you thought love would declaw you,
tenderness soften your edge,
or that you were Eurydice,
always disappearing
when a man looked at you over his shoulder.
But this time it was you who risked looking back,
took the chance you’d be the one
to emerge from love’s underworld alone.

Michael Broder is the author of This Life Now (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2014), a finalist for the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Assaracus, BLOOM, Columbia Poetry Review, Court Green, OCHO, Painted Bride Quarterly, and other journals, as well as in the anthologies This New Breed: Gents, Bad Boys and Barbarians 2 (Windstorm Creative, 2004), edited by Rudy Kikel; My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them (Terrace Books, 2009), edited by Michael Montlack; Spaces Between Us: Poetry, Prose and Art on HIV/AIDS (Third World Press, 2010), edited by Kelly Norman Ellis and ML Hunter; Divining Divas: 50 Gay Men on Their Muses (Lethe Press, 2012), edited by Michael Montlack, and Multilingual Anthology: The Americas Poetry Festival of New York 2015 (Artepoética Press, 2015), edited by Carlos Aguasaco and Yrene Santos. He lives in Brooklyn with his husband, the poet Jason Schneiderman, and a backyard colony of stray and feral cats.

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