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Poetry for the Council

If you missed ALCC’s Advocates of the Year awards ceremony last week, you not only missed a swanky evening honoring unsung heroes in the fight against HIV. You also missed a sterling performance by spoken word artist and former national poetry slam champion Lisa Buscani. She wrote a piece especially for our event. And it goes a little something like this:

Night Doctors

Death in the South is subtle and mundane.
Kudzu, better living through botany gone bad,
Consumes the soup that passes for Louisiana air,
Sinks its insolent roots down deep beyond reach and
Creeps its unrelenting way up into the trees,
choking the life out of weaker things.

It is not the only predator.
Poor people knew that all too well, back in the day.
They told stories of the Night Doctors,
Men with money on their minds
riding in ghostly clothes a top fearful thunder,
Whipping broken hides deeper into submission.
The Night Doctors sought the sick, the unprotected and
Conveniently sped them on their way to death,
Toward the substantial fees the med schools paid for dissection cadavers.
Folks spoke of The Needle Men,
Who came round October through March,
cloaking needles full of poison or some such
looking for the unfortunates ashy with illness
One poke and they were done.
Worst of all, they spoke of The Black Bottle Men
Over to the Charity Hospital, passing out bottles cradling
A brew of cascara and milk of magnesia.
If you were bad, you did not get better.
Instead you would shit yourself blind
And serve mankind under some third year’s knife,
A medical fledgling just dying to know what makes you tick.
People learned to sit with their sick,
Guard against the changes
And place hope in home remedies;
They viewed the hospital as a last-chance stop.
The way the poor told it then
Sick folks were worth more dead than alive.

But that was then
A time when such primitive vulgarity was acceptable.
Today the Night Doctors have stabled the horses,
They’ve hung bridles on their final hooks
And morphed into something more sophisticated
But just as vicious.
Far less filthy and in the trenches.
Far less dirt under the metaphorical finger nails.
Instead,
the Night Doctors have fragmented
into a byzantine maze of rules and regulations,
into a flurry of paperwork required
of someone too nauseous to hold a pen,
into the emergency policy that won’t cover a sight-threatening eye infection
because you still have a good one left.
The Night Doctors are the computer bug that annually
Sends your Medicaid card to a West Side address
Instead of your South Side home.
It will not matter how often you call.
They are the laws of a land
that’s not yours and does not want you;
A land that will resort to intimidation
to keep you from asking for help.
They are Aid office phones that ring and ring and ring and ring and ring
Because goddammit, the staff is tired . . .
Or the staff is simply not.
The Night Doctors are now the terror
that keeps you from getting tested
Or getting the help that’s available.
They are the fear that makes you lie on the job app
which costs you your benefits,
or a proper diagnosis,
or access to support.
They are now the grinding poverty or the chronic underfunding
That wears your will and patience and convinces you somehow
That you had this coming; that this
hat in hand, screaming at deadened ears,
this is all you deserve.
All this, all this,
when all you want to do is lie down.
And that is the Night Doctors’ most insidious victory.
When you think like that, you’re dead.

copyright 2011 Lisa Buscani

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