For World AIDS Day:

UD has long been haunted by the song Fairy Book Lines, words by Charles Barber, music, Donald St. Pierre.

You can hear a bit of the song here, on the Amazon page for the AIDS Quilt Songbook (scroll down for music samples).

For me, the drifty music and drifty words capture the bitter business of dying. They capture the peculiar process by which the body, in a modern world of medicine, returns to earth.


Death be nimble –
life was quick
Efficiency’s a modern trope
To be expected
with impatience
Not less
when bearing death
Or a low-burning illness
slow as memory.

Though death’s old-fashioned
and enters the room
Like Sonnambula,
bearing a burning candlestick.

Double, double
toil and trouble;
Triple sadness,
endless sorrow:
Like friends sitting too long
by the hospital bed—
Like the T.V. watching you
with paralyzing glare;
While the night-nurses
in soft-soled shoes
Wheel in the confections
to ensure your misery
Will last a long tomorrow.

The world’s so full
of a number of things
Now never to be savored
Never to fire
a subordinate employee
Destroy a marriage
position an M1A1 tank
On desert children.
Marveling at such achievements
is a sure way
To gladly sacrifice
a number of things
The world has always favored.

Poor old Charlie,
he swallowed a fly;
The fly was drunk
with M.A.I.
Buzzed here buzzed there
Till a well-seasoned fever
stitched in hues
Of delirium-like gold,
cooked in a broth
Of bacterium stock,
festering with forgotten dreams,
Took hold—took him—took life.

Twinkle twinkle
eyes in pain;
Retinitis makes
its awful gain.
Eyesight’s a form of breathing
–like glass
Full and rich with freedom.
Now a bag
slides over the head
too bad!
So long to the world
So long desired:
darkness sucks you down its drain.

Fly away, fly away
over the sea,
Sun-loving sick boy,
for summer is done.

First the pneumonia,
canceling the lung,
Followed by a possible list
of viral, bacterial, parasitical,
And let us not forget fungal.

The slow-covering growth,
so like nature,
Slowly returning the body to earth,
adrift in underground.

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