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Poetry

Dismayed by the murder of Pakistani healthcare workers
for vaccinating children against polio, I recall the dread
that darkened my childhood before Salk proved the power
of killed virus to halt infantile paralysis, the summer scourge.
I also recall a girl, held upright by braces the rest of her life,
one of six to fall ill in school, and the only one to live.

The dread lifted in 1955, the year Disneyland opened,
and Bill Haley and the Comets rocked round the clock,
when I stood anxiously in an endless line in grade school,
having only a vague idea that the shot I was about to get
would do away with crutches, braces, wheelchairs,
dimes that marched, and things called iron lungs.

The lungs were most dreaded of all: huge metal cocoons
from which jutted the heads of small creatures undergoing
reverse metamorphosis from winged things to deadweights.
Being only eight, I could not link that strange image
to the hushed adult talk about a neighbor boy gone limp
and unable to breathe after taking a dip in a town pond.

For me, the real threat was simply the shot itself
as I fidgeted with my reluctant third-grade classmates,
all of us willing to give up recess for a week
to be excused from the line that snaked into the gym,
where, under the caged lights and basketball hoops,
stood a gauntlet of white-clad nurses holding needles.

We did not know we were blessed, the first children
to grow up free of polio for which there is still no cure.
All we knew was that after getting the shot,
it was finally time for recess, jumping double-dutch
and playing dodgeball with our sore arms, claiming
our childhood right of taking life blissfully for granted.


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