Memento (Aide Memoire)

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Memento (Aide Memoire)

Tile–pure tchotchke – the terra cotta
Southern California’s sierra/
siesta/sonesta style, with snoozer in sombrero
beneath a palm.

Below, a jaunty “howdy” greets
at a slant, with a dashed
date from ’77, which make me think not
somehow
of ’77–though that the year when Grethe
Rask, Danish surgeon who’d worked
in Zaire, died so strangely–but
of the next ten years,
when thousands died, tens
of thousands, as politicians
of Terra Cotta, SoCal and beyond, snoozed
determinedly beneath waved palms, proclaiming,
when not plain silent, moral failings, medical
misinformation, howdy
 doody, their own
damned fault.

Sores
wept, bones
bared, lungs
drowned, and with the sores, bones,
lungs, were blanked
so many eyes and hands and hearts
that lit the world with sparks
and sparkling,
and those too who perhaps
lit only a few
dark nights, too few, too
many.

Honestly, I can barely stand
to look
at this tile, sun baked so carelessly
into its squared veneer, yet rub
my finger over its gloss
as if to trace there
that lost time; howdy, howdy.

*******************************

A rather emotional (sorry) reading of the poem:

Here’s a draft draft draft poem for dVerse Poets Pub Poetics Prompt hosted by the wonderful Claudia Schoenfeld, and featuring evocative photos, one of which I’ve posted above, by Mobius Faith a/k/a Terry Amstutz.

My nanowrimo novel, if I ever get it written, takes place in the mid-80s or so, so I’ve been thinking about that time, which was when the AIDS epidemic hit. Ronald Reagan, elected as President in 1980, serving till 1989, mentioned the word AIDS in only one speech in 1987.  I’m not saying this to be partisan; it’s a fact from a complex and very sad period. The CDC reports that in the U.s. there were approximately 50,000 reported cases of AIDS in the U.S. between 1981 and 1987, 48,000 deaths. Between 1988 and 1992, there were another 202,502 U.S. cases reported, 180,000 deaths.   Of course, there were (and are) many many more cases  and deaths worldwide and into the present.

I should add as a process note that Grethe Rask was one of the first confirmed cases of AIDS (in a non-Afridan) though the cause of her death was not known until a few years after her death as AIDS had not been identified as such in 1977.  She is likely to have been exposed performing surgeries in Zaire.

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40 Comments on “Memento (Aide Memoire)”

  1. claudia Says:

    heck…first thought you gonna write a nice, warm SoCal poem and already started smiling…terrible how many people died from aids already and still do – even though you don’t hear so much about it any more…a tight and thought provoking piece k.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Sorry – I knew you would think that actually and thought I should make a different title. You know I love SoCal! I almost moved there after law school! Seriously. Oh well. Was not to be, I guess.

      The medication is a big improvement, though it’s still difficult, I think, and of course, many don’t have it and can be hard to take too. k.

  2. Mama Zen Says:

    This is really gripping in its intensity. Fantastic, sobering write.

  3. Miriam E. Says:

    what a powerful poem.
    “Sores
    wept, bones
    bared, lungs
    drowned, and with the sores, bones,
    lungs, were blanked
    so many eyes and hands and hearts
    that lit the world with sparks”
    so much pain in your words, a great write.


  4. Such a savage disease and, although they say otherwise, I’m sure it was man made too but, who in their right mind would ever admit to it being so? Yes, the picture and title are nothing as we’d imagine the poem to be about.
    Powerful write Karin, sad for its facts and truths.

  5. mobius faith Says:

    Really nice K. I’m not a writer but I love how you wove this poem. The reading is great.

  6. brian miller Says:

    dang….vicious piece….great internal rhyme…nice thump and a wicked pace….much less the smack in your face reality of it…ugh….sad how many….


  7. This was quite a turn from the terra cotta tile ~ I specially liked the third stanza ~ Great imagery here K ~

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks. It is, I know. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the time, and Reagan here, who probably ddn’t intentionally mean to add to the problem, but ended up creating a situation of neglect and moral blaming that certainly didn’t help. That’s why the tile took me in that direction, honestly. k.

  8. Mary Says:

    You really took this picture to a personal level….and I appreciate that. Those were such difficult years you wrote about,and the disease takes its dreadful toll (which you described so well). Yes, there is medicine today..but still where is the elusive cure? I appreciated the reading as well.


  9. So powerful and terribly sad… the descriptions and language bring home the way those who live with disease were and still are treated… to think it was around in 1977 that’s quite terrifying really, so much we still don’t know about this terrible disease.

  10. Luke Prater Says:

    So desperately sad, so brilliantly written. It’s those touches of the everyday we can all relate to that make it great, like your finger on a tile – we’ve all had our fingers on tiles… incidentally the poem reminded me of the TV movie about the first AIDS outbreak in S Francisco called The Band Played On or something similar. They originally called it GRID was it? Related it to gay men because only gay men had it at that stage (bar one or two women). Thank you for this, and for your wonderful comments on my new blog xx


  11. […] These are not listed in any particular order. MEMENTO [Aide Memoire] by Karin Gustafson […]

  12. Glenn Buttkus Says:

    Wow, Karin, this one resonates with so many, so much. In 1977, I ended my acting career, became a teacher–and so many of my theater friends were dying of the mysterious “gay disease”. Odd, isn’t it that because AIDS is hardly mentioned presently in the media, that some feel it is no longer important. Meds have improved, misery has been reduced, but why keep the process, the disease strapped in silence? Thanks for your brave write, and I must disagree that your reading was less than sterling. The real emotion catapults our understanding of your poet’s heart. You are one of the few, like myself, that recites the poetry to provide another dimension to our creativity.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Glenn, you are so very kind. Thanks very much and thanks for tweets! You are much more adept at twitter than I am.

      I think the medications are good if people can tolerate them, but I agree with you. But I think all these viruses (including cancer) are very difficult. Thanks again. k.

  13. hedgewitch Says:

    A terrifying poem in many ways, as it should be to deal properly with the subject matter. The real horrors are not in the horror flicks nor is the zombie apocalypse a tenth as gruesome as what can happen in a hospital in an ordinary day, particularly one in the third world. Our minds can’t really conceive of how prosaic and real such horror is, but you bring that here, as well as some explosive alliteration which seems to underscore the elements of irony. As reader to writer, I knew it was about AIDS fairly quickly…well conveyed, and painfully direct.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks – agh! You’re right. To think of what happens in Africa and Asia now especially where medications are scarce and the disease so prevalent, and also, at least in some places, so stigmatized.

      Thanks for the note re “getting it.” I was going to say AIDS Memoire but honestly, if I were to write an AIDS memoire, it would not be this, but something much more about people – this time I was thinking of the politics more I guess – and the California connection – not so much SF but Reagan. Thanks as always. k.


  14. Yes, I too picked up on AIDS, the whole thing rending but your reading reached into my heart with claws and demanded I feel. Thank you for that, too often we are complicit, we don’t look, we don’t reach out. Beautifully done!

  15. marousia Says:

    Powerful writing – sharp imagery – love the grit in this

  16. Beth Winter Says:

    Wrenching and vividly real. This is a powerful write. I’m not sure I can add to what the others have said other than a sorrow-tinged bravo.

  17. rosross Says:

    What a wonderful honouring of the image. So dense. Great.


  18. K this is so strong. Yes, as Beth says, the most I can give is a brava and a tear…and thanks for evoking both.

  19. janehewey Says:

    a devastating disease. I admit, I did not know it was AIDS you were referring to until moral failings, medical misinformation and howdy doody, their own damned fault. the severe judgement that humans place on other humans is another one of our most painful social diseases. a terrific write, k.


  20. Interesting poem. It reminded me of the negative and judgemental attitude of so many Christian communities in the USA which wasn’t so blatant here in the UK, althought the press and Conservative party more then filled the gap!

    It’s one of the strange factors why princess Di caught the public imagination in the way she did – she hugged Aids patients when it was said that even being in the same street was going to give you AIds,

    And the 80s was when we had the beginings of the neo-liberal dismantling of the measures and support put in by the post depression and post war leaders so never again…. Perhaps the tide has finally turned and their time has come!


  21. How wonderfully you read your poem, k. Lump in my throat.

  22. David King Says:

    This is very clever in a brilliant sort of way. The narrative you’ve added at the end shines a light on it, discloses stuff I had not thought was there. It sure magnifies the feeling that was part and parcel of your lines in any case.

    You’ve just gotta get that novel finished, an d no mistake!!!

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Yes – I’ve been working every day, but this has actually been a very busy busy time at my job so it’s very nice to have the immediate enjoyment of the blog. The novel is based on a a nanowrimo I did two years ago where I got to the 50,000 words but took the whole time figuring out the plot. Now I have that particular plot, at least in some kind of outline in my head – last time, I would change major things about the characters all the time. There’s also a part of me that knows I have the old writing. I haven’t used any of it, or referred to it that much, but I know that I would keep some of the same scenes so have not felt as pushed to recreate it all (or to worry too much about the 50,000 words). Whether I can put it all together??? This is so hard. It is very difficult to get a book finished, and then when it is finished so hard to market, so there’s a bit of a sense of dread about it all. Agh. But I do like the story/characters if I can get it done. Thanks much, Dave, for your kindness. k.


  23. What a powerful poem. It packs a mighty punch. Many thanks. Aids has always been so misunderstood (it still is. Unbelieveable!) Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  24. jasmine calyx Says:

    I really like this:

    “Sores
    wept, bones
    bared, lungs
    drowned, and with the sores, bones,
    lungs, were blanked”


  25. strong response to the piece. Bit of a history lesson to boot, always great when poetry merges with the truth, thusly entertaining and informing all at once. Thanks


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