D.A. Powell: Breaching the Brume of HIV/AIDS

Posted by on July 24, 2012 
Filed under Essays

D.A. Powell’s Chronic is a collection of poems elegizing the people, including himself, who have died and are dying of HIV/AIDS.  Powell strives to make sense of the brutal nature of HIV/AIDS by approaching the disease from a surrealistic viewpoint which dissects what the word “chronic” means in the context of one suffering from HIV/AIDS. The poem entitled “[not the musical:] south pacific” is one such example of Powell using symbolic imagery and perception, as well as evoking disparity in the human thought processes concerning the disease, to portray HIV/AIDS as being  insidious, akin to a ravaged  sailor adrift on the south pacific sea.

From the poem’s outset, “[not the musical:] south pacific” evokes an insidious feeling through the title’s notation of the south pacific as being “[not the musical]” (Powell 0) variety of sea one normally is used to envisioning. Powell’s sea in is atonal. It “scrapes” (2) instead of lightly swooshing. It is also arrhythmic in that it lacks the lulling steady rhythm of lapping waves. Instead, Powell’s sea’s waves “scrape the sky” (2) and confuse the course of the “doubt-filled sailor” (1) with their “yawing, tacking” (1) ways. The “scrape” (2) sound caused by the “yawing, tacking / waves” (1-2) dismisses one’s notions of this sea having any type of musicality to it in that a “scrape” sound can be thought to represent something void of recognition or quantification in that waves scraping a sky suggests the sky and waves have been conjoined through the “scrape” (2) sound. In essence, the generic quality that one attaches to perceiving the sound of a “scrape” (2), through the fact that so many different things can scrape, is mimicked by the sky being mirrored with the sea through the scraping. The sky and sea have become indistinguishable from one another. They lack the uniqueness one would normally associate with musical sounds. The sky and sea have become superficial voids, the source/part of the “exile” (1) felt by the “doubt-filled sailor” (1). This lack of musicality in the environment can be felt as being akin to the lack of zest for life one feels through knowing of his/her impending death from a chronic disease such as HIV/AIDS. Music is less important when one is faced with contemplating his/her imminent mortality.

While Powell use of an insidious tone in “[not the musical:] south pacific” evokes disparity in the environment through his use of an atonal/arrhythmic sounds, Powell also uses allegorizes characters and objects to further invoke the insidious nature of HIV/AIDS. In lines six and seven, Powell equates the “mutinous crew setting me adrift / in that damnable life raft” to one becoming isolated from the world as a result of becoming infected with HIV/AIDS. If one thinks of HIV/AIDS as being an invader into the authority one has over their body, then it is logical to perceive Powell’s use of a “mutinous crew” (5) as having stranded this “doubt-filled sailor” (1) as actually being HIV/AIDS overthrowing the vessel that is the sailor’s body, causing the sailor to be cast “adrift / in that damnable life raft” (5-6) that is the social isolation one feels from contracting HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS is further allegorized as being a “mutinous crew” (5) which overthrows the vessel that is the human body with line seven wherein Powell relates the “mutinous crew” (5), HIV/AIDS, as having flown its flag of piracy, the “skull and crossbones” (7), which can be perceived as HIV/AIDS’ outward debilitating effects on the body that include visible sores and a malnourished complexion. HIV/AIDS has flown its insidious flag, marking the speaker’s perpetual decline in health at the hands of this chronic disease. Powell continues to further allegorize HIV/AIDS as being a parasitical pirate when he speaks of the “mutinous” (5) pirates as being sustained by “hardtack and grog” (8) while the stranded sailor experiences thirst at the hands of the tremendous heat that is “the equator” (8). HIV/AIDS has ravaged the speaker’s body to the point that it is only the virus that is benefitting from the speaker being alive. The speaker, in the wake of the virus assuming control over his/her body’s vitality (the “hardtack and grog” (8)), is left only with an empty feeling inside that Powell likens to one experiencing a thirst so massive that it feels like being “against the equator” (8), the hottest environment on earth. In creating such a tyrannical situation for the human body to have to endure at the hands of HIV/AIDS, Powell is showing that the disease’s insidious nature has also affected his perception of reality: HIV/AIDS has tainted his body to the point that his acuity has been taken hostage as well.

By the end of the fourth stanza of the poem, Powell’s acuity appears to have been ravaged by the methodical evil inherent in HIV/AIDS. However, the last stanza of the poem unifies the speaker’s mindset concerning the disease. The speaker finds a place where acts such as “faith” (10) and “reflection” (10) become necessary for the speaker to use during his/her battle with HIV/AIDS. Powell’s use of alliteration, by using the words “little” (10) and “lack” (10) consecutively, unifies the speaker’s acts of “reflection” (10) and “faith” (10). These acts have allowed the speaker to rise above the panic and disillusionment experienced when one is lost in the “brume” (10) of HIV/AIDS.

Works Cited

Powell, D.A. “[not the musical:] south pacific.” Chronic. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2009. 27. Print.


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