Sissy polio boy, 1955

I spilled tomato juice on my
flannel shirt my
first year in kindergarten
in a new town with
kids I didn’t know

and they laughed.
It felt like they laughed
at me but
who knows?

When at age four you’ve
just spent weeks in a hospital
and months taking
hot baths and castor oil

but they tell you how lucky
you are because you
can walk again, you
don’t know.

You can’t tell if
every bad moment in life
is aimed at you or
not. Especially

when even the first grade
PE coach makes fun of you
for not being able to
hit the ball.

So half a century later
you still seethe with outrage
when a pickup cuts you off
on the road.


Image: Mike in third grade, 1958

6 comments On Sissy polio boy, 1955

  • Linda Walling

    You had polio? Have you had any post polio symptoms?

  • Yes, Linda, but I’ve only gradually realized that’s what I was dealing with. In 1954, if you could breathe and walk again they were so relieved it was as if you had been “cured.” They didn’t know about post-polio syndrome yet, and physical therapy was not yet a common follow-up to debilitating injuries and illnesses. It’s taken me decades to observe, analyze, and learn to address the long-term symptoms.

    Straight chiropracty helped me deal with lower back issues through my 40s and early 50s. Since I began practicing Taoist Tai Chi in 2008, I’ve gradually discerned how polio affected my whole right side and, in turn, caused my left side to overcompensate and carry not only more weight but much of my stress and anxiety.

    I remember a week-long tai chi workshop about 5 or 6 years ago. During workouts on the last morning, I suddenly realized that in any movement that called for dropping weight into the right foot, I automatically rolled the foot to put the weight on the outer side, curling the toes, letting the knee collapse inward and the hip backward. I’d been doing that for 60 year. The asymmetry is so slight that observers other than my instructors may never have noticed it. But boy did this open MY eyes!

    In the years since, I’ve done a lot of work with “sitting jongs” (the stationary foundation movements), using a kneeling chair. This allows me to work on spine and upper body without struggling to keep lower body aligned. My whole spine and right side opens up when I practice, and my left side is learning to let go of what I call the left shoulder “sky hook” that I’ve hung my weight for most of my life.

    Of course habit takes over outside of practice sessions. But now, not only do I notice, but I know WHAT I’m doing when I sink back into my wonky lopsidedness. I can actually say I am practicing tai chi all the time now. I pay attention to my spine rather than to my arms and legs. Whenever I can feel as if I were suspended by a chord through the top of my head down to the end of my spine, everything else relaxes and shifts into a more balanced skeletal articulation.

    So much of lopsided posture and movement for all of us is learned behavior rather than structural deformity. Now I am unlearning and discovering how well my body works when I let it. I figure in another 50 years or so, I’ll be a well-balanced ancient person. 🙂

  • I had friends who walked with leg braces or crutches or who had withered arms. I remember polio vividly. I had a friend in a wheelchair in college when there were no ramps and we girls carried Ruthie up the stairs so she could get into the building. She was a bright, bubbly young woman. I now wonder what happened to that red-headed ball of energy. Hopefully, many good things.

    Over the years I found out this virus comes back as Post-Polio syndrome. Ugh. Not fair. Not that anything is.

    Glad you’re able to cope with it. T’aint easy. I never had polio, but I had a terrible accident that has left me with life long disability. Keep the faith, brother.

  • Thanks, Marsha.

  • Oh, Mike. I never knew. Did notice how bright and dedicated you are with an artist’s eye for shadows and photography. Love your poem…..

  • Thanks, Lyn.

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