How difficult it is to say goodbye
to scourge. For years we were obsessed with you,
your complex glycoproteins and your sly,
haphazard reproduction, your restraint
in your resistance, how you bathed so slight
yet fierce in our most intimate secretions.
We will remember you for generations;
electron micrographs of you seem quaint
already, in the moment of our victory.
How difficult it is to claim one’s right
to living honestly. The honesty
you taught was nothing quite as true
as death, but neither was it final. Yes,
we vanquished you, with latex, protease
inhibitors, a little common sense—
what’s that, you say? That some remain at risk?
How dare you try to threaten us again!
Of course, you’d like to make outrageous claims
that some behaviors haven’t changed, that some
have not had access to the drugs that mask
your presence in the body. Difficult
it is, how very sad, to see you strain
(no pun intended) at response—our quilts,
our bravest poetry, our deaths with grace
and dignity have put you in your place.
This elegy itself renounces you,
as from this consciousness you’ve been erased.
The love for you was very strong, the hot
pursuits so many of us reveled in—
but what once felt like love was really not.
I hardly know what I will find to hate
as much as I have loved and hated what
you brought to bear upon my verse, the weight
of your oppression and the joys of truth.
How difficult it is—to face the white
of nothingness, of clarity. We win!
Rafael Campo, “From ‘The Changing Face of AIDS’: ‘Elegy for the AIDS Virus’” from Diva, published by Duke University Press. Copyright © 1999 by Rafael Campo. Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc.