Marvin K. White’s “A Balm in Gilead: A Prayer, Poem and Sermon”
for Glide’s World AIDS Day Celebration 2015
The God of the FDA and of my Combination Drugs.
The One True Atripla and Combivir God.
The Epzicom of Prayers.
The First Trizivir and The Last Truvada.
The Great Fuzeon Lord of the Entry and Fusion Inhibitors.
Mother and Father Nucleoside and Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors.
My Rescriptor, my Sustiva God, and my Viramune God.
The one they call Ziagen and the Trizivir of Peace.
The Epzicom sample and The Videx Hope.
My Emtriva waking and my Epivir sleeping God.
The Bottle Twister of my Zerit and The Sweet Coating of my Viread.
The Deliverer of my Retrovir.
The God of Opportunity in Opportunistic Infection.
God of the Living Rifadin.
The True Ambisome Shining.
The Zitthromax Light.
The Pill Giver.
The Most-High Radiess.
My Biaxin Keeper and The One Whose Date Does Not Expire.
My Liposomal God.
The Mysterious Dissolving One.
The one they call Marinol of Oakland, Baraclude of Atlanta,
Procrit of New York, Etopophos of Jackson, Toposar of Chicago and Diflucan of DC.
The Elixir. The I AM.
The Cytoveene. I AM.
The Globulin. I AM.
The Nydrazid. I AM.
The Sporanox. I AM.
The faithful Megace.
The One who prescribes my Taxol, Peginterferon, Alfa2 God.
The Holding It All Down God of my Mycobutin and Serostim.
Sweet, Sweet, Sweet Serostim.
My Bactrim and my Septra.
My Main Man.
The One on Trial.
(Agenerase Reytaz Prezista Lexiva Crixivan Kaletra Viracept Norvir Fortovase Invirase Aptivus Aptivus Aptivus Aptivus.)
That’s The One called hope!
The One Who Brought Hope!
The Blood Giver and The Blood Taker.
(Oh My Pneumocystiscarinii, Cytomegalo, Toxoplasmosis, Cryptococcussporidiumdiosis, Meningitis, Enterocolitis, Mycobacterium, Avium Complex, Tuberculosis, Bacillary Angiomatosis, Salmonella, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Retinitis Kaposi Sarcoma, Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy God!)
The God of Morphologic Change.
The God who is both Change and Constant.
The Lipodystrophy and Atrophy and Trophic God.
The God riding my Buffalo Hump.
The Way Maker of Cardiovascular Disease.
The One not wasting this my Wasting.
The Saccharine God of My Diabetes.
The One Higher than My High Cholesterol and my Triglycerides.
(Oh My Dyslipidemias, Insulin Resistant, Gynecomastia, Hyperlactatemia, Visceral Adiposity, Hyperlipidemia, Infective Endocarditis, Myocardial Infarction, Histoplasmosis God! Still GOD!)
The One Who Temples Headaches.
The Fever Fanner, Fatigue Breaker, Rash Clearer and Flu Shaker.
God of inches.
La Transformista, The Transgender God.
The First and the Fifteenth God.
The Social Working God.
The Clinic and The County Hospital God.
The Welfare God.
The Long Line and The Long Wait God.
The Deep Breath Before I Break God.
The Ohm Before I Jump Across This Desk and Down Her Throat God.
My Mother God.
The God of Ash.
Our Midnight Cry god.
Our Ouch God.
Hearing our inside God.
God working in the medicine.
God working through the medicine.
God working of the medicine.
God working around the medicine.
God working on the medicine
My ADAP Way Maker and always my Amen when ain’t no men.
A Balm in Gilead: A Sermon for World AIDS Day
I have a AIDS ribbon tattooed on my left shoulder and I have about 20 doves tattooed across my chest and arms. At the two ends of the ribbon there is a pencil tip and a pen tip. I endured the needling because I needed a way to remind myself that as my friends were dying from AIDS, somebody would have to listen and tell and continue their stories. I knew I wanted to be that person. I was called to be a writer in this time. I knew that I had to carry and account for countless stories at risk for not being told. I tell you this because somewhere in and on our bodies, we all carry and are responsible for the stories of those who are living with and have died from HIV and AIDS. I tell you about my tattoos because science has told us that HIV is not transmitted through the telling of stories.
My AIDS ribbon tattoo reminds me to not leave it up to history to tell their stories because like I’ve said before, history will erase them, diminish them, lie about them or leave them out altogether. And God was surely saying to me in this midst of the pandemic, “I am getting ready to show you who I am.” I believe that God, the divine, or the still small voice, invites us to look for God inside the faces of the suffering.
So I read this poem for the many people who missed advances in medicine by one year, one month, one week and even one day that could have changed their death sentence into a manageable and chronic illness.
I read this poem because I knew them when they were told that there was no hope. Then when their hope became regimens of 30 pills a day. Then in their struggle to adhere to the often toxic regimens. Then when they were moved to hope with the introduction of medicines that could stop the virus from attacking them. I knew them and I read this poem because I know even if they are not here in the flesh they can hear their names within these medicines.
I read this poem so that when you take a pill for anything, you come into the understanding that your swallowing, and your pain patch, and your shot puts you in solidarity with all sick and suffering people, all over the world, with and without adequate health care. So now, I declare when you take your pills, that you are indeed through this Eucharistic act, saying a prayer that creates coverage for everyone. When you take your pills you say that if there’s a balm for me, then let there be a balm for everyone.
The doves I have tattooed on my body are reminders that I am and we are required to make peace with ourselves. I am required to help decriminalize diseases of any kind. My doves remind me that I have to love the skin I’m in even when this world does not. And so these doves and this ribbon inked into my skin like a contract I’ve signed is where my theology is shaped in part.
It is a theology that says for my friends who are HIV positive, it no longer means that their diagnosis means that they have failed a test because we now know that there is a God that takes on the stigma and knows what it means to engage in risky behavior.
It is a theology that doesn’t shame the infected, but holds price-gauging hedge-fund-turned-pharmaceutical dudes accountable for profiting off of the vulnerable by insisting they stay sick, so he can get richer.
So on this World AIDS Day Sunday, I read this poem to you because I hope you will join me in addressing the shame that keeps people from being tested and treated.
I hope you will join me in being living monuments to the lives Lost to AIDS. And If their lives are not inked on your skin, then maybe when you leave here, on your hearts.
I hope you will help us rewrite the narrative that says only that their lives were lost when we know now that the dead’s names are also the names of God.
I read this poem in hopes that you will leave here and spread the news that God is in the medicine. God is the medicine working. AIDS was not God’s plan. Help was always the plan. Unconditional love was the plan. A cure was always the plan.
I believe that the medicine, whatever you’re taking and whatever you’re taking it for, is working today and I read this poem as a prayer in the name of the elemental God that compounds God’s self into pill form for us. Into solubility for us. Into a new thing easy to swallow. Into a shame and time releasing technology delivering into the world’s bloodstream a steadier stream of compassion.
And finally beloved, I read this poem in honor of every man, woman and child who died from AIDS. Let us exhume and redeem their bodies and stories with the knowing that “Nothing they ate, nothing they did, nothing they said, no one they loved, no one they trusted, nothing they forgot, or nothing they drank or smoked can keep them from God. And that God, in God’s dispersal and dispensing of God’s love, has always been saying, “HIV and AIDS must remind us to not love less but to love more.”
We must leave here knowing that, “As much as the virus seeks out the optimal opportunity to infect and mutate, that there is a God that is viral, comes to all of us, looks for the optimal conditions and accommodations to show us how to care through crises, to suffer with the suffering, and yes, to heal and recover with the afflicted. God contracts and expands the virus to give it new meaning— that God is love and love is radical and radical love is unconditional.
Marvin K. White, seminary student at Pacific School of Religion andpastoral intern at Glide Church is the author of Our Name Be Witness, Status, last rights (finalist for Stonewall Book Award and Lambda Literary Award) and nothin’ ugly fly (finalist for Lambda Literary Award). He is a poet, performer, playwright, visual artist and community arts organizer. His poetry has been anthologized in The Road Before Us: 100 Black Gay Poets; My Brothers Keeper; Gents, Bad Boys and Barbarians: New Gay Writing; Things Shaped in Passing; Sojourner: Writing in the Age of AIDS; Bum Rush the Page; Role Call; and Think Again, as well as other local and national publications. He is the coeditor of If We Have to Take Tomorrow: HIV, Black Men & Same Sex Desire. An ex-member of the critically acclaimed Pomo Afro Homos, he has led creative arts and writing workshops for a range of audiences, from youth centers for runaway kids to black gay support groups to literary conferences and social justice organizations. White was co-founder of B/GLAM (Black Gay Letters and Arts Movement), a Bay Area, California organization whose goal was to preserve, present and incubate black gay artistic expressions. He has held fellowships in the national African-American poetry organization, Cave Canem as well as in the inaugural Changemaker Fellowship at PSR. He sits on the board of Fire & Ink, a national black LGBT writer’s organization. In community, Marvin K. White is articulating a vision of social and creative justice through being a student, deacon, homemaker, cake baker, Facebook statistician, activist and office manager.