On the Criminalization of HIV

Since finishing my transcreation of Y Gododdin back in 2012, I have rarely plucked poetry from the aether. In that time I have composed only about twenty sonnets, most of which were written in India last winter. This was, to all extents & purposes, a fallow period, a resting of the bedsoil of my artistry.


In the past week, however, I have been gushing words onto the page concerning that most interesting of topics – the criminal culpability of HIV transmission. My reasoning behind such a choice is perhaps my age – 38 – a time when a man should be all grown up & working at their intellectual peak. This, combined with the natural instinct that a poet is, above all, a teacher – I have opted for a poetic period of rather more serious subjects in order to highlight some of the newest elements of society.

I would like to herald my entry into a new poetic sphere by printing the complete text of my new poem, entitled;

On the Criminalization of HIV

Everybody loves a winner,
But when you lose its just you
And the partial view out the hospital window

Tory Dent

A new & deadly virus strikes the world
That has a place in all our minds this day
Whether a wild, wild storm whipping the sea
Or dark cloud on a felltop far away
HIV is crucially increasing
The state’s coercive power over life
For now to spread its terror made a crime

To be guilty of this lawbreak
One must first possess the virus
Then foresee potential harm may come
To those one cares to sleep with
Inducting lovers to the spectral glade
That soaks them in the social aspersion
Attached to this lonely Dantean clique

The epidemic broke in the eighties
A puzzling & frightening condition
Knowledgeless, we bluster in the dark
Anxious & hostile to the unknown
When possibilities of contamination
Spreading surface-to-surface
While prison wardens strange suits space-age don

The disease sleeps in bodily fluids
To pass around from host to host
Thro sex unprotected
Via a dirty syringe,
Or two young lads in cornfields
Slicing each others palms
Commingling them in a blood brother clench

Haemophiliacs, Homosexuals, Heroin-users, Haitians
Cast as core groups from whence AIDS should not spread
For fear of upsetting the Woman’s Institute
Four marginal & disadvantaged communities
Where all who wallow in this misery
Must sexual or social deviant be
Discriminated by a widely spreading prejudice

Abnormality modernity denies
All that we know or care to know of AIDS
Was shrouded in great silence, shore-to shore
The core of all this brutal suspicion
Must come from Afric’s auld, primeval mind
When sorcerers & witches scream revenge
& cast accursed illness on their foes

‘They use illicit drugs, y’know,’
‘They sleep with one another AFTER DARK!
In seedy alleys next to throbbing clubs,’
Those, those, those… GAYS!’
O how the word spits off the tongue
Of those who seem to have simply forgotten
It is not who is risky, but what!

But when the virus better understood
Routes of transmission painted in light
The message reached us all
Be safe in sex, be safe in life
Else slow, if not reverse, the human march
That brought us the beauty of Nureyev
Dancing his sceptered ballet in Paris


Human immunodeficiency virus
Attacks the body’s natural defences
Like a thief in the guise of a cleaner
Rifling through an octogenerians’s flat
A little bit here, a little bit there
Til one day the old woman’s grandson
Notices all of her life savings have gone

Polemic, politicized, problematic
We speak of HIV like some folk ghost
Haunting the fields about the whispering farms
This is the wyrdest of all our diseases
It’s delayed symptoms difficult to grasp
Our mighty & once cherished immune system
Unable, now, to handle such a war

One may live with the virus for years
Feel completely well, suffer no symptoms
Then late in the day arrives the unforgiving
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
When tailcoat turning, snow-white CD4 cells
Start to copy HIV in droves
Instead of combating those morbal swarms

Most elegant redresser of man’s sins
From thee, the threat of early death upsprings
& brings a sense of life’s uncertainty
As clinging to their own mortality
Go those who should be giggling upon swings
Beside irriguous meadows, instead
We fear the serpent sloppy lovers spread

When you sleep with one person
You sleep with everyone they’ve ever slept with
When after losing at Russian roulette
AIDS becomes the steady killer
Breaking down inbuilt immunity
Opening one’s corporeal chakras
To any bug that cares to come your way

Dying means you are dead already
The walking dead, the talking dead
When death becomes an experience
No random moment in a soldier’s war
But extracted & tortuous,
Interactive & cancerous,
Foul scourge of days & weeks & months & years

To live with HIV
Gives life a strange complexity
When our bodies social beatings
Made relevant to all
& then, to pass it on,
Thro passion’s reckless moment
Quite unwelcome in our land

When to give it to a stranger,
Or even worse, a loved one,
Is answerable quite bluntly
With a lengthy imprisonment,
But surely sex & sexiness
Could never be tamed by dictates
By old Westminster made

This is our proud, old land
Whose legislative assembly
Wants to control, controversially,
Our long-loved sexual activity
When taking risks deemed illegal
The sick plunged in criminality
If ever they give into their lust

Essentially, this sub-group demonized
By brainwashed minds deserves its fading fate
As if them destined to self-immolate
& if they dared their lust to share
& impregnate their burdens
They must be culpable, a weapon barb’d
With deathdom dripping from its vicious hooks

In the context of infection
Such pan-social perception
Personifies the demon
That draws a being’s essence out
Into its skeletal twilight
& serves it human justice
Within understandable social frameworks

Incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution, deterrent
These are the mainlines of criminalization
But how can these four pillars e’er bypass
The sheer necessity of man’s first thrill
While those with HIV, & most who care
Despair at such a clinical perception
Raising the join’d voice critical in vain

Conducting our conduct, this grandee state
Aims to shape & regulate comportment
Broadly guiding thought across the boards
To rationalize the national livery
As worn by we, its web-like apparatus
& thinks that health-related social norms
Should be affected by the way we live

The consequences of knowing the consequence
The deliberate deceit of sero-positive status
Omission, non-disclosure of the truth
When that dreadful day of diagnosis
Is locked away inside the dungeon mind
As all it takes would be a little condom
To castigate this queen of STDs

Now ultimately the responsibility
Lies with the chief infectious
To ensure proper safeguards are in place
Secured throughout all acts of penetration
Even if partners shun the rubber sheath
Preferring the most purest passion,
Lust dripping, sweating, from panting pores


Then comes the narrow line twyx life & crime
When only if the virus has progressed
& only when the risk achieves fruition,
Can we label the moment illegal
Tis but a surreal lottery
That reckless lovers play
As in bosom heat they lay

You point a dagger at a persons heart
For this you can be prosecuted
The threat is all that matters
But if we lie abed with one diseased
& spend all night in blissful, soft embrace
To wake up with a picnic in the park
If you still clean, them free to chance again

A man in Glasgow caught the thing inside
Glenochil nick, with all its parasites
Injecting drugs, sharing the dirty spike
& when outside went creeping unprotected
Within Anne Craig, & as he did he lied
So Stephen Kelly’s ‘reckless injury’
A firm, prudential landmark of the land

Feston Konzani from Malawi
A chancer & a dancer
Took three women in his chamber
Joined three women to his danger
Tho one of them pleads leniency
Evidently becoming aware
Of some past consensuality

There was a woman once in Wales
Who loved her man so much she pursed her lips
Daring never to declare to him
She was a victim of a social sin
Who hoped & prayed, asking all the angels
He would not catch it, but upon foul ears
Fell these fair words on fallen angels cruel

When the smoking gun discovered
‘I simply want to get even,’
‘I want to show them just what they’ve done,’
A swirl of incorporeal feelings
Angry & shocked, betrayed & disbelieving
In a damaged future
Trust lies broken in the mind

Now the newly infected
Unburdened by governmental approval
Are free to seek revenge after an act
In which they shared complicit intimacy
& partnered irresponsibility
Aware of all the risk that this entails
Deflecting blame onto a soul once loved

But on what good could such a course attend
Spreading blame through a culture full of blaming
Shifting burdens from society at large
To he or she who carried first the virus
Away from the legally aggrieved
Who really should be just as full aware
Of such high risks in this evolving world

In these our modern times
It is assumed, even expected
That all our personal behaviour
Should be conducted in a shared attempt
To minimalize the threat to others
Group management of risky situations
Like driving sober with our sober peers

It takes two to tango
& two to trasnmit HIV
Such laws exacerbate social stigmas
Weakening the message that sexual health
Attributable to both partners
Breaking rocks of collective consciousness
On which solid society must stand

Friends, let us educate ourselves
The minds of peers imperfect
& draw up long-term strategies
Encountering, holistically,
All aspects of this HIV
That wrecks our fate relentlessly
As if struck by desert thirst


Lets learn of hopeless suffering;
Eyeballs choked with soot
From the ashes of the souls
Of those too incredulous to despair
Beneath the blanching white-hot stare
Of an unreal, uncaring sun
Marble eyelids boning dry

Life yanked away like babes from junkie mums
They approach the omniscient threshold
Seeking rapprochement with Christian gods
Listening to the drip-drip of their miseries
Refocusing perceptions & agendas
Paralyzed by the sheer weight of inability
To play one’s fate-strings & a harpsichord

They must leave us soon
A past unsigned for, & a future sure,
As into the dark misery of tears
Of loved ones fading day-by-day abed
We stride helpless while rich men discuss health
& search for some deliverance
Distraught at all her senses’ dwindling

Through dismemberment of the future
The skeletal wasting of our once happy body
Brings visitors to tears, the milk turns sour
Shared memories too rotten to invoke
Tho them once full of beauty
& all reduced to childhood once again
Before the glory of our natural laws

The dowerness of daily routine
Made banal by the latter days of AIDS
Estranged from all we socialites call life
Just drugs & hugs, long bitterness & pain
Until, at point-of-death, that pain shall cease
Then nothing… for this host has realized
This last breath is their last, & exhaled, dies

For them, let us foster & enable
An environment of true compassion
Let those infected live openly
Breathing shared air without reproach
& assume that those who dwell with HIV
Will carry out the safest possible sex
If ever by the gods of lust them borne

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