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University Bookstore project

Happy New Year!

The University Bookstore at the U of Washington is releasing a book to celebrate its 110th birthday. Stesha Brandon over there asked some local writers to create 110-word pieces for the book. I thought it was a nice honor to be asked and happily contributed.

The topic and form were our choosing, with the only limit being the word count. At the time of the invitation, I had been helping a friend with a project to raise money for a charity close to us, The Thembalethu Trust, which funds medication, hospice, education and aid to HIV-infected persons (particularly orphans) in South Africa.

While researching my next writing project in South Africa last summer, I met a remarkable person, Natalie Hansen, who dedicates a considerable portion of her days comforting patients in a province where the HIV infection rate is 50 percent. She is dedicated, selfless and truly inspiring. One afternoon, her husband, Paul, drove me past a local cemetery that could not contain all the new graves. Makeshift markers were made of sheet metal with the names painted by hand. It was a heart-breaking sight.

I used my 110 words to write about it. I will put the poem at the bottom of this post. If you would like to know more about Thembalethu and how you might be able to help, please see the website at

By Dave Boling

Down at the bottom of Africa
the virus takes its half. Half
the pickers and workers, and
the teens on the dusty street corners. Half
the children steaming in tin-shed huts,
half the babies who drink it in so sweetly
from their mothers’ infected breasts.

The freshest graves are mounds of rocks
because the diggers are dying too, dying with
the stone carvers; so the markers sprouting
from the baked earth are sheet metal squares
with drippy hand-painted names. Who will plant
them now? Who will paint their names? Who
will be left to stack stones on the body of the last
child to die at the bottom of Africa?

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