World AIDS Day
Essay Awards

As part of a December 1st World AIDS Day celebration, the Michigan Department of Community Health hosted its first annual creative writing competition. Local writers were invited to enter poetry, prose and essays that relate to the event theme: Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise. The submissions touched many aspects of life with HIV-the struggles, the pain, the strength, the searching. Thank you to everyone who entered.

The winner of our contest, Andie Lind, has been a volunteer for HIV/AIDS support organizations and an HIV prevention and testing counselor since the early nineties. She received her MSW in 2000 with a Master's Thesis on factors impacting the decision to test for HIV. She is currently working on a series of essays related to her experiences as an HIV prevention and testing counselor, and has previously been published in Strut magazine.

As the first place winner, Andie Lind received a $100 prize.


Never before AIDS. . . have I felt so close to love and pain, so connected to other people.
--Abraham Verghese, from My Own Country


We were warm then,
wrapped together like pieces in a family quilt,
and woven into each other's lives.

Lee was gossamer,
invisibly shy until he smiled,
then shining as if ignited by sunlight.

And Darryl--like linen, slightly abrasive,
a bit less kempt than the rest of us,
and as reliable as any good, comfortable sports coat.

Amy had the laughter of rich tulle,
sultry and innocent all at once,
and in Tom's voice was the roughness
of unwashed silk.

We were folded in the folds of
our joy in each other--
a rainbow fabric
that drew the stranger--that retroviral moth--
to Fire Island,
to the Castro,
and to the hundred thousand places where
blood runs through the embroidery of arteries and veins.

Now the stranger pulls at the threads that join us,
and the tapestry of our history unravels.
Threadbare, cold through to my soul,
I stitch your names into quilts,
six foot by three foot,
trying, crying frantically
to cover myself.


The stranger remains,
As do I.

I stitch less now-the effects of modern medicine conjoined with marrow-deep cynicism-
And studiously ignore the amorphous houseguest who will not leave.

Five times the names of my chosen family
Have blanketed the national mall:
Bits of cotton and gauze in bright colors
A discordant reminder of possibility gone-
Gifts opened, blamed for their own defects and then discarded,
Forgotten as quickly as bolts of fabric can be warehoused.

In each year of twenty I have listened to promises-
Of non-toxic drugs
Of vaccines
Of cures
Of money
For non-toxic drugs, vaccines and cures-
The cloth of insubstantial political will, shredded
By the sharp tones and clipped sermons of the righteous.

I can't believe in this day and age…
The Lord knows the sinners…
What a waste…

And in each year of twenty,
The names of other Lees and Darryls and Amys and Toms
Are sewn onto six-foot squares
By those who still believe the promises
Of evicting the stranger…

...the stranger I will no longer name "enemy"
Existing, as I do, amid
The hatred of the righteous
And the apathy of promise-makers

The two runners-up in the contest, Irene Garza and Ellen Hildreth received prizes of $50 each.

Irene Garza has been working in substance abuse and HIV for the past sixteen years. Her passion is HIV work and she is at her best when doing for others. She has been at Community Health Awareness Group for over six years and is working on a Masters in Social Work at the University of Michigan. She believes in giving back and freely sharing the many gifts that have been bestowed.

This poem has been written and is being dedicated to all of our clients at CHAG. In addition, it was written for my dear friend who continues to live her life to the fullest and with the utmost dignity. She holds her head up high and she is a consistent source of strength and God's goodness. The HIV community is truly graced by her dedication. She continues to teach me that I can do anything and that life just isn't that bad. It is also for those who may be lost somewhere out there alone and who don't even know that services exist.


We had not seen you nor heard from you. We were so happy when you came into CHAG and we saw you. You just don't know how important it was for us to know that you were okay. So we did see you, but then our hearts began to weep. You said that you were not feeling well; we noticed that you were smaller still. You remained in recovery despite the obstacles that you must face. This makes us happy but then we look in your eyes and we see your pain-not only do we see it but also we feel it. For you, our hearts weep.

My colleague, who is also my friend. She needed me to come with her to see you. She had some very important work to do. She had a positive test result-that positive test result was for you. You came into the room, you had an aura about you. Your very presence commanded attention-the tall and handsome young man that you are. We got through the small talk and then the moment of truth arrived. To say the least you were absolutely and totally stunned. We wanted to embrace you and to make it okay-but we couldn't, we were powerless. For you, our hearts weep.

You look so good-how are you really feeling? Please tell us, as we really do want to know. Is there something, anything that we can do to make this journey just a little easier for you? We will do it if we can, please just let us know. We know that you are scared, we know that you are angry, we know that you are uncertain, we know that you feel alone and that you fear anyone knowing. You are not alone-we are with you. For you our hearts weep.

Sometimes we see so much hope, change, progress and growth. For a moment, it is as if we are really making a difference. Then, we see the sickness, the pain, the despair and the loss. We are reminded of why we are here. Why are we here? Because this is where God wants us to be. The spirit says that we must continue on this journey with you-we say to you that we love you and truly we do. We are sincere, we so want to make it all go away but we can't. How long must our hearts weep?

Is government funding really going to be cut? Don't we already need more money? Are we really moving toward abstinence-based programs? Is this a joke? What about our Life Points program? What will our client's do? How will we be able to help them? The very ones who we are so desperately trying to save? More people will die. Sometimes we just don't understand. What in heaven's name is going on? Why must our hearts always weep?

To all of you whom we love. It' is important for you to know that we really, really love you deep in our hearts. We sometimes don't know what to do or say. Sometimes there isn't anything to do or say. We are just there, we try to be strong but sometimes we don't want to. Sometimes we just can't do it. Always, our hearts our weeping. You are the ones with the real strength and courage. You are the ones who move our spirits. Please know that forever and a day, we stand with you as we eagerly await the day when our hearts will no longer weep.

Ellen Hildreth is the Poet-In-Residence at The Historic Scarab Club of Detroit. Her work appears in local and national publications. She was included in the Wayne State University Press anthology, "Abandon Automobile."


Child, grandmother, intimate stranger
I promise to save your name.
Not in the panel of a quilt.
Or with a candlelight vigil.
But with my vote, my voice,
My stem cells.
So that the only red ribbons
You give to me,
Will be on Valentines.

(For an editorial on World AIDS Day from Ann Miceli, please click here.)

For more information about World AIDS Day and the poetry event, contact:

Ann Miceli, MDCH/HAPIS
Cadillac Building
3056 W. Grand Blvd., Suite 3-150
Detroit, MI 48202
Ph: (313)456-3112; Fax (313)456-4428


© 2002