Polio Days

Why did they send us to summer camp—were they being parental?
Swimming pools—any gathering place—were considered plague central.
Everywhere you went, billboards displayed the smiling faces
March of Dimes kids offered up to go with their metal leg braces.

Imagine being inside an iron lung and having to swallow the rotten truth
That life was going to be one long bad connection inside a telephone booth,
And that you’d been really unlucky and would never walk
Because it had happened before there was vaccine from Jonas Salk.

Truman was in the White House but polio was the president
In the years of the plague, when our American atom bombs were pubescent.
The milkman delivered the milk in unsterilized glass bottles.
Aunt Edna served home-killed fried chicken, wobbling her wattles.

I can’t imagine it. Imagine being stuck
Inside an iron lung and not being able to touch your genitals or fuck—
Forever—for the length of your brief stay here on earth,
In a death train’s sleeping car’s shut-tight upper berth.

Meanwhile, the scenery of cities and countryside flashes past outside.
The tickety-tock of the train on the tracks is the groom and the bride
Making love in your brain rhythmically, or is it the air-pump breathing you?
Breathing is all you will ever do. That isn’t true—

You will write symphonies. You will sing Leaves of Grass.
You will jump higher than Nijinsky and smirk at him, Kiss my ass!
You will sit down at your desk right now and watch the snow
Falling in a million white pieces, and say hello.

This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Subscription — $74.95

Purchase a print subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all articles published within the last five years.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.