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Today begins a special installment of the Potomac Review blog that will continue for a few weeks.

The work read at the seminar on “Women and Aids” which Professor Katherine Smith, Poetry Editor of Potomac Review, organized for her students at Montgomery College April 15, 2009, was devastating and stimulating, perhaps ultimately inspiring. Guest speakers were Nancy Naomi Carlson, Lisa Freedman, Jane Satterfield, Elisavietta Ritchie, and, in absentia, Elspeth Cameron Ritchie. Since the work was so strong and pithy, but only swiftly heard with no chance for contemplating properly, it seems wise to present it for your reading and sharing.

Since Elspeth Cameron Ritchie may be the one of us with the most clinical experience with AIDS, beginning with her rotation as a third-year medical student at George Washington Hospital at a time when the early AIDS cases in the Nation’s Capitol were flocking there for treatment, it seems fit to begin this piece with a poem of hers. Her second poem is in the voice of an AIDS patient.

Work by the other seminar participants and the poets and writers whom they included will be in subsequent entries.

Tearing Through the Moon

The hurricane rears:

clouds puff with anger,

shield stars from my red city.

Indoors, I interview

patients with AIDS.

Wind sucks at Washington streets,

licks skirts on flame-lipped girls,

gropes at monuments,

at crack houses, Congress.

I ask about lymph nodes,

risk factors, depression;

correlate results into papers,

pie charts, presentations.

My own dread roars,

tears at the moon.

My patients have slept with tainted men,

shot retrovirus in scarred veins,

breathed through diseased placentas.

I too have been reckless,

roamed orange city streets,

kissed men in tight pants.

They got trapped

in the henbane of desire.

Wrapped in leaves of death,

they watch for signs,

eat AZT, spray on pentamidine.

I too watch and fear,

insert IV’s and start CPR.

After a handshake I wash.

Hands itch. I wash again.

I am no cold planet.

My palm trees bend.

The monsoon batters. Islands

of brittle coral sweep away.

My patients go out into the storm;

clouds blanket the inflamed moon.

Tears heat my skin.

Should I quit?

Stay behind locked doors?

No, I will live through the seasons.

That needle stick innocent—

my blood still tests negative.

“Tearing Through the Moon” was first published by JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association.

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