Michele Leavitt

Virus Controversiae: Discourse from the Hepatitis C Epidemic

Viral Ode to Blood

O lift us as a wave, a leaf,
a conduit. Imprint us with
your codes and tell us when we seem
off-base in our translational

cleavage with your own proteases,
and fail to yield viral proteins.
Be our perfect host of red seas,
parting for no genome but us.

Host H at his brother’s grave1

You said whatever’s sacred escapes
with us—escape being sacred,
elusive and pervasive, the sacred
point. You said that’s how water escapes –

it possesses no compression point –
but our bond wouldn’t seep away like water
since blood is thicker than water.
My blood escaped, the sticking point

between infections in our case.
I shared too much with you,
but we didn’t stick together. You
proved vulnerable, an incurable case,

and then I wore Cain’s skin, refusing grief,
while you played Abel, dying at my feet.
The door to you locked shut. You’re now my keeper,
the Lord having committed me to life.

1 “Chronic hepatitis C varies greatly in its course and outcome. At one end of the spectrum are infected persons who have no signs or symptoms of liver disease and have completely normal levels of serum enzymes… and the overall prognosis may be good. At the other end of the spectrum are patients with severe hepatitis C who have symptoms, high levels of the virus (HCV RNA) in serum, and elevated serum enzymes, and who ultimately develop cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease.” “Chronic Hepatitis C: Current Disease Management.” National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.

Choral Ode to Skin

O keep our people separate from each other –
a helix of fallen leaves in yellow, and black,
and pale, and hectic red – although we know
they are the one tree’s vivid myriad.

You are the canvas of their differences,
the surface argument against their sameness
when the tree insists on roots. Clothe them
in throwaway garments. Keep us blameless.

The Virions Strategize 2

colonizing your
lives silly we’re invisible to
naked eyes content to squat in corners of your cells

but you
massive genocides
our lives are sacred slow and mild
our footprints take decades to show up in your body

scale decades
mean millennia
try to deny our right to life
try we will pantomime submission while genotypes

translate infiltrate
reduplicate accumulate
we do not gradually reproduce -- we replicate

2 “The dynamics of HCV replication can be deduced from the rapid rates of virus production and emergence of
mutants. A careful analysis of viral dynamics during antiviral treatment of patients with IFN-a revealed a virion
half-life of 3–5 h and a clearance and production rate of ~1012 particles per day. . .” Ralf Bartenschlager and Volker
Lohmann. J Gen Virol July 2000 vol. 81 no. 7 1631-1648.

Host T, before he faded

Palmetto shadows sway outside the window
near my bed. The sun goes down and Ann,
the nurse from hospice, unexpectedly
a friend because she’d been a dope fiend too
(I knew her from a Monday meeting), cuts
the light on. Then it’s me in that window, propped up
on pillows, staring like a mangy possum
from an unchecked trap. I haven’t said
a word in weeks, but now I hiss and moan,
and she reminds me I’ve been whittled down,
once a man of six foot four, my solid chest
a place where men and women both had laid
their heads. I held people up – the good way –
assuring them their fucked-up shames would fade
like mine did – and the world pulsed with light
those times, the shadow light that brightens now
to fade what colors of my shames can make me.
Ann reaches in and pries the spring trap open,
until I’m clear, until I say come take me.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Leavitt

Michele Leavitt’s poetry and prose appear most recently in Umbrella, Hippocampus, and Per Contra. Her poetry chapbook, The Glass Transition, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2010. An essay, “No Trespassing,” received a “notable” nod in the 2011 Best American Essays. A high school dropout, hepatitis C survivor and former trial attorney, she now lives in Maine and works for Unity College.