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Poem in Remembrance: World AIDS Day, December 1, 2011

Posted: Dec 02, 2011

Twenty years ago a friend of mine died of AIDS. He was the first person I ever knew personally to die of this disease. He was young and talented and beautiful, and the last time I saw him he seemed completely well. Then I heard that he had died.

Shortly after I received the news I found myself in Chicago at the Chicago Art Institute standing in front of an arresting work of art by Jenny Holzer called "New Disease." It was Holtzer's lament for all those who were suffering and had suffered from AIDS. I had never seen art like hers---conceptual, bold with statement, alive with neon tubes and flashing color, signage like in its execution. I stood, transfixed, in front of the installation for a long time. Then I went back to my hotel room and wrote the following poem.

On Seeing Jenny Holzer’s* Work at the Chicago Art Institute, 
                            April 28, 1991
(for my friend who died of AIDS in NYC in 1991)

Red hair and freckled flesh
sucked grey--
this “New Disease” has eaten
Now the bright flame
licks your frail frame
back into itself.

your soul soars
above the sleepless city
where others wait
their sentence
from the lips of love.

*Jenny Holzer is a conceptual artist (b. 1950) whose themes include lamentations about death, torture, and disease.

-----Penne J. Laubenthal

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