It arrives
not simply
in printed program books
for distribution to delegates

but on hand-lettered,
red-ribboned cardboards
tacked to lamppost
after lamppost:

INTL. AIDS QUILT
COMES TO S.A.,
AT THE COMPANY GARDENS,

PLEASE.
SO MANY CAPETONIANS
NOW HAVE HIV,

PLEASE MY CITY,
PLEASE MY WORLD,
YOU ARE HERE

and Cape Town here
and world here
gather up a procession
of black-brown-
sunscorched pink faces

of cries, chants,
hand claps, & ululations

of black, white, saffron, & maroon
robes, crosses, rosaries, malas,
& pentagrams, skullcaps,
head scarves, yarmulkes

& prayer shawls, white-
painted warrior shields,
mouth-masks to
avoid breathing
in & killing insects

procession of
safety-pinned red ribbons

that pours into
a level tough stretch
of perfectly shorn grass

to hear out the speakers
who boldly bear up
their revelations by T-shirt,
I AM HIV POSITIVE,
I AM HIV POSITIVE,
I AM HIV POSITIVE…

Ellipses that won't
sidetrack anyone
into the numbness
of the merely statistical…

Not when this
broad-faced, sweat-beading
mother of Africa
cradles the empty air
as she tells: I could not
afford any drugs,
so I got really sick
& my baby died.

Not when these open-faced
youngsters in white gauzy garments
so tenderly bear up
and tenderly lay down
each glitterflare and fallen-dark name
of rent, stitched, & patched-up
fabric of memory.

Not when those cries,
songs, & ululations
get squeezed back into
a tightening
tighening
silence of grief.

Not when behind
these thousands
who gather in God's
thousand thousand Names:

a cool crowd of trees
contracts to release
a fluttery burst
of impromptu wild doves.

Not when that silence
decompresses & rushes
out as a low "aaaah"
of recognition a wonder-
stoppered caesura
behind those birds.

Not when the panels of our deaths,
the throats of our lung-lobed lives,
are all God's stories & songs like this
surprise uprising of dovely souls

who scatter to
the intense blue round
of Global-South sky,

to ochre-green, unflinching
witness of mountain,

even to these hard stacks
of balcony-jutting
luxury
apartments
that live right by
the Company Gardens.

About the Poet

Mary Krane Derr is a poet, writer, musician, nonviolence advocate, and fourth-generation South Side Chicagoan. Her work has been nominated for Best American Poetry and Best Spiritual Writing. Her poetry has appeared in journals like Many Mountains Moving, Lilliput Review, and Seeding the Snow, and anthologies like Hunger Enough: Living Spiritually in a Consumer Society, ed. Nita Penfold (Pudding House), among other publications. She has contributed to such reference works as the African American National Biography, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Oxford University Press); and a forthcoming Polish American Historical Association encyclopedia.