24 June 2010

Summer's Winter

I’m very aware of death whenever I leave the continent of Africa. This is not necessarily because of seeing so much pain and dying. I think it’s actually because I witnessed so much aliveness! So each time I leave, I’m aware that anything can happen between the moment I leave and the moment I return to the continent. Death can creep into all of that aliveness so unexpectedly. Every once in a while, winter finds its way to summer.

There’s Joseph—so strong, so resilient, so much going for him. I expected to receive emails about the day he was coming to the U.S., sponsored by New Balance, to run in a major race. Or sweet baby Kofine whose body was frail, but who I thought had a chance at life with the year’s supply of food that was given to her family and Peter’s constant care for them. So when I received messages this past year that both Joseph and Kofine died as a result of poor access to good medical care, my heart froze. What seemed like summertime in their lives was a lie.

Then there’s Marion in Malawi and Lavergne in South Africa—both HIV-positive. Honestly, despite my prayers, I expected both of them might breathe their last breaths maybe before I even landed back stateside in 2008. But when my sister went to both countries this past March—nearly two years later—she returned with images of both women standing, smiling, surviving . . . so beautiful! A summer revival in what I thought were wintered lives.

But in the midst of summer, came winter. And I learned this week that Marion died a few days ago.

the Winter pins me
for a moment, my Summer thoughts had consumed me,
convincing my mind they would not forsake.
I imagined the sun would kiss my skin again, leaving it sticky
I promised to call it a beautiful residue
I pictured walking with my head high, slicing
through summer’s thick air
smiling at couples in sandals
holding hands and sipping lemonade
on a sweet summer stroll
but then Fall and I met, he erased
the summer’s cicada songs from my memory
and lied to me
never warned me of December’s early coming
my limbs were captured, encased by ice
it was almost beautiful—a crystal tree
if it were not also a prison to my bones
I shivered, unable to escape cold
even then I believed I might tiptoe into Spring
quietly like a kid sister returning a diary or a
sundress she never asked to borrow
then February
seized my body
refusing to let me March
now I watch snow fall on skeleton trees
and concede to Winter’s heft
while birds learn morning tunes and tulips bloom
in someone else’s yard

3 july 2004

A few months ago I had the idea to write a poem about HIV/AIDS and seasons. I played around with a few words. Then this week I found this poem , and I’d written it in 2004—untitled, but the (very poor) working titles were “Death of AIDS patient” or “Living with AIDS” or “Dying with HIV/AIDS.” How funny to have an idea this year that I actually had in a writing group one time 6 years ago. I honestly didn’t remember I’d written it. My friend calls it self-plagiarism. I find it fitting to have found it just hours before my friend Kara called to tell me of Marion’s surprising death. And so I share it today in her memory. (I think I'll title it "Winter Song: An AIDS Lament." Maybe.)

I leave you with Marion’s prayer request Lanecia collected back in March:

My prayer is for my family. I pray that God should give me a house. When I was very sick Tiwasunge took care of me. I ask God to continue guiding them. As I'm still strong I ask God to give me capital so I can relieve the burden on Tiwasunge because I have 7 kids. I pray God should bless Tiwasunge. Amen.

May we experience many more springs and summers than fall and winters. But may we accept the cycle of all things and live fully into whatever season life has given us this day.


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Anonymous said...

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