When Polio struck my school in 1955

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Polio was rampant in Ireland in 1955.
We were not yet vaccinated against it.
A fever , a limp and within week -death . It afflicted the young and I never saw such terror in the eyen of our parents
The girl who sat beside me in my desk ..went to sleep

Submitted: October 26, 2012

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Submitted: October 26, 2012



The cobalt splendor has returned  coal black sea
To drawn in a fresh and purifying tide.
The flotsam treasures lie in the tangle of seaweed on the strand

I see across the bay the crannogs on the Burren
The geese have left the ponds and are flocking in the football pitch

And I recall a distant voice
Chasing down the alleyways of time.
Sibilant against the shiver of wind upon the window pane ,
Soft and indecipherable to the ear.

The yielding soft persistence comes to my pillow in the night
And the subtle vision of her frail being comes more vividly..
Now more vividly , as the leaves begin to fall


I am sitting in my school desk
In 1955.
The girl beside me is beautiful ; pale and like a frail leaf.
So she was before they take her away

When we hear she’s very sick
Its bad news  the adults say , and then go quiet
That awful quiet when there’s no more to say.

Some days later the school is closed
And the children are asked to pray for  the reposed soul
Of my frail leaf who  went to sleep last night and went to heaven
Before the sun came up

She had died
 From polio.

The outbreak of disease was declared by the public health doctors
 And we are dispatched to the country, for the summer .
The fear of this polio plague  is everywhere now .
Cinemas are closed , and children are kept away from mass.
And I have never seen the terror on the parents faces.

I wonder if its like the war in Hungary because the adults
Talk about it in the same hushed tones

The sickness is everywhere . Like the plague you see in the bible
And I see the polio is creeping like a  swarm of maggots  across the country :  an undulating brown writhing thing : marching in their twisted columns of death:
Then ,-Invisible , stealthy , then they pounce.
Another boy down the lane has got the fever , but his bed doesn’t go cold
He survives but when he gets out of hospital he has callipers on his legs.
He limps , with a clatter  along the path : but alone . He can’t play with us anymore ,
And our parents have warned us not to encourage him -not just yet.
He might still have some clinging bits of the disease

It was Spring 1955
Elvis had just sung jail house rock.
But sea was still and stagnant and the hinterland all went grey
No merriment came that year ; no joy among the bird life in the trees.

Cats prowled under moonlit roofs and rats scavenged beneath floor timbers,
And the children played no games on the street.
No skipping for the gangly legged girls.
No marbles for the boys
No tops spun , no trees are  climbed .
No chestnuts conquered

Nothing but the wilderness of fields flattened by the storms
The wilderness of worry on each parents brow
And that bleakness hung over our town all that year

And in the Autumn ,we returned to school
But my desk seemed empty : empty of my  fair  and fragile leaf
And the empty place where she sat looked hollow and bleak and
Her voice was written in the whorls of the sweeping  grain of pine on the desk top.
Her gentleness still sat where she was gone ,
And somehow its emptiness spoke to me in the silent minutes
When I sat alone in the classroom , looking at a snow covered mountain on a glossy calendar from the year before.

Then someone else was sent to sit at my desk
And I worried about her ,
Until I got to know him better -(he gave me a picture of Elvis)
Did she really die before the sun came up.
I’d just like to know
Just a meeting so to say hello.

Her face will forever be written in the sweeping grain
And her waif-ish figure  falls with each leaf of Autumn
And her gentle voice is forever etched in my mind
In the cobalt of the sea and the whiteness of the surf .


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