Poems about The Body – and Dying

November 16th 2014_First snowfall of the season in Toronto

Robert Hass (born 1941)
A Story about The Body
The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.” The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity – like music – withered very quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I could.” He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl – she must have swept them from the corners of her studio – was full of dead bees.
. . .
Marie Howe (born 1950)
How some of it happened
My brother was afraid, even as a boy, of going blind – so deeply
that he would turn the dinner knives away from looking at him,
he said, as they lay on the kitchen table.
He would throw a sweatshirt over those knobs that lock the car door
from the inside, and once, he dismantled a chandelier in the middle
of the night when everyone was sleeping.
We found the pile of sharp shining crystals in the upstairs hall.
So you understand, it was terrible
when they clamped his one eye open and put the needle in through
his cheek
and up into his eye from underneath
and left it there for a full minute before they drew it slowly out
once a week for many weeks. He learned to lean into it,
to settle down, he said, and still the eye went dead, ulcerated,
breaking up green in his head, as the other eye, still blue
and wide open, looked and looked at the clock.
My brother promised me he wouldn’t die after our father died.
He shook my hand on a train going home one Christmas and gave me
five years,
as clearly as he promised he’d be home for breakfast when I watched him
walk into that New York City autumn night. By nine, I promise,
and he was – he did come back. And five years later he promised
five years more.
So much for the brave pride of premonition,
the worry that won’t let it happen.
You know, he said, I always knew I would die young.
And then I got sober and I thought, OK, I’m not.
I’m going to see thirty and live to be an old man.
And now it turns out that I am going to die – isn’t that funny?
One day it happens: what you have feared all your life,
the unendurably specific, the exact thing. No matter what you say or do.
This is what my brother said:
Here, sit closer to the bed so I can see you.
. . .
Marie Howe
Just Now
My brother opens his eyes when he hears the door click
open downstairs and Joe’s steps walking up past the meowing cat
and the second click of the upstairs door, and then he lifts
his face so that Joe can kiss him. Joe has brought armfuls
of broken magnolia branches in full blossom, and he putters
in the kitchen looking for a big jar to put them in and finds it.
And now they tower in the living room, white and sweet, where
John can see them if he leans out from his bed which
he can’t do just now, and now Joe is cleaning. What a mess
you’ve left me, he says, and John is smiling, almost asleep again.
. . .
Both the above Howe poems are from the collection What the Living Do © 1998 Marie Howe.
From Wikipedia:
Howe’s brother John died of an AIDS-related illness in 1989. “John’s living and dying changed my aesthetic entirely,” she has said. In 1995, Howe co-edited, with Michael Klein, a collection of essays, letters, and stories entitled In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic.

World AIDS Day: We Love Safe Sex!

World AIDS Day poster from a United Methodist congregation in Seattle Washington USA……….

World AIDS Day 2013_highschool students in Seoul South Korea form themselves into the red ribbon universal symbol of AIDS Awareness_December 1st 2013……….

World AIDS Day in San Salvador_El Salvador December 2013……….

Melbourne Australia_Federation Square Red Aware dot org Info Tent for World AIDS Day 2014_Dr. Clovis Palmer with a volunteer……….

HIV AIDS Awareness poster_Toronto Canada……….

Nairobi Kenya_World AIDS Day_December 1st 2014……….

Poster by Sister Isadora Knocking……….

Melbourne Australia_World AIDS Day street sign on the St.Kilda Road bridge over the Yarra River_November 30th 2014……….

World AIDS Day 2014 in New Delhi……….

World AIDS Day 2013_sand sculpture by Sudarshan Patnaik at a beach in Puri_Odisha_India

Prayers and Poems for World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day_December 1st

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close
My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
if Immortality unveil
A third event to me,
So huge, so hopeless to conceive,
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.
. . .
The Maryknoll AIDS Task Force Prayer
God of all compassion, comfort your sons and daughters who live with HIV.
Spread over us all your quilt of mercy, love and peace.
Open our eyes to your presence reflected in their faces.
Open our ears to your truth echoing in their hearts.
Give us the strength to weep with the grieving,
to walk with the lonely, to stand with the depressed.
May our love mirror your love for those who live in fear,
who live under stress and who suffer rejection.
Mothering, fathering God grant rest to those who have died
and hope to all who live with HIV.
God of life, help us to find the cure now and help us to build
a world in which no one dies alone
and where everyone lives accepted, wanted and loved.
(Prayer courtesy of the Maryknoll Sisters of the San Salvador Diocesan HIV/AIDS programme and Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance)
. . .
Prayer for the Girl Child (from Musa W. Dube’s Africa Praying: A Handbook on HIV/AIDS)
We are gathered together to affirm the humanity of the girl child. We celebrate the fact that the girl child was created in the image of God and is loved by God. We claim responsibility to protect the girl child and give her the opportunity to grow without fear of being abused by anyone. We pray for a safe environment that is created by all for the safety of the girl child. Amen.
. . .
Albert Camus (1913-1960)
A Witness in Favour of a Stricken People (excerpt from The Plague)
Dr. Rieux resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favour of those plague-stricken people: so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in people than to despise. Nonetheless, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory. It could be only the record of what had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers.
Translation from French: Stuart Gilbert
The Maryknoll AIDS Task Force was founded in January 1992
From the Rig-Veda (ancient Sanskrit hymns from India):
Oh God,
Let us be united
Let us speak in harmony;
Let our minds apprehend alike.
Common be our prayer,
Common be the end of our assembly;
Common be our resolution;
Common be our deliberations.
Alike be our feelings;
Unified be our hearts;
Common be our intentions;
Perfect be our unity.
. . .
Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006)
The Long Boat
When his boat snapped loose
from its mooring, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
that caring.
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
endlessly drifting.
Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn’t matter
which way was home;
as if he didn’t know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.
. . .
Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918)
On Dying
I am standing on the seashore.
A ship spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
I stand watching her until she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says
“She is gone.”
Gone where?
The loss of sight is in me, not in her.
Just at the moment when someone says “She is gone,”
there are others who are watching her coming;
other voices take up the glad shout, “Here she comes.”
And that is dying.
. . .
A Confucian Prayer
All fathers are to be served,
Revered, as one’s own father.
All mothers are to be cherished
As one’s own mother.
All men and women are to be respected,
Honoured, as one’s own brothers and sisters.
As earth bears them all,
So all of them are to be accepted.
All are to acknowledge
And to act upon
Their universal kinship.
Thus will the Great Unity come into being.
. . .
A Hopi Native-American Prayer


Do not stand at my grave and weep
– I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
– I am not there, I do not sleep.
. . .
From Japanese Shinto sayings:


Clothe yourself in kindness.
The heart of the person before you is a mirror:
Behold therein your own.
One good word can warm three winter months.
One good deed is better than three days of fasting at a shrine.
Requite ill-will with kindness.
Be like the tree – which covers with flowers the hand that shakes it.
. . .

We are grateful for provision of these poems and prayers to: The Maryknoll Sisters, whose AIDS Task Force was founded in January 1992; Professor Musa W. Dube, feminist theologian from Botswana; and The Huffington Post.


To read poems in four languages – ZP’s World AIDS Day 25th Anniversary feature (December 1st, 2013) – click the following link:


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