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The Polio Vaccine, Chatham, Virginia, 1964


ISSUE:  Fall 2008

for Inez Shields

It was not death we came to fear but her life,
her other birth, waking remade from the womb

of that disease. One leg was withered, a dragging-
numb weight behind her, one shoulder humped—

a camel’s—and what did we know of that foreign
beast but ugliness and that she carried in it hard

faith like water. And so we did what we were told:
outside the elementary school, the long line drowsed.

We saw gleaming trays of sugar cubes rose-pink
with the livid virus tamed, its own undoing.

We opened our mouths, held it on our tongues
and, as with any candy, savored the sharp corners

going, the edges, until at last the form gave way
to grain, to sweet sand washing against the salt of us.

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