When I was a child in the 50's, I wore white
cotton gloves with lace at the wrists.
Railings, door handles, drinking fountains --
all were Verboten; my mother said, don't touch
anything, the world is a filthy place, you'll get polio.
I dreamt
, she told me, that you held a red balloon
by a string that took you higher and higher up
into the sky, and I shouted Let go! Let go!
but you held on and floated into the clouds.

One day, she led me by the hand
into the children's ward at the hospital.
Entombed in an iron lung, lying there,
was Sarah Brown, who sat beside me all year
in 2nd grade; her head stuck out one end,
the rest of her encased. In her eyes, death floated.
Stripped of all courtesy, I could not speak.
For months afterwards, in a recurring dream,
a disembodied hand chased me round
and round while party guests just smiled
at me and said, What a nice little girl you are!
I shouted at them, Don't you see it? Don't you see it?

The dreams stopped with our rescue:
One day in the 3rd grade,
we children stood in long, solemn lines,
patiently awaiting our salvation
at the altar of modern science:
tiny paper cups filled with the red miracle,
the first vaccine.

Half a century past, the skin on my hands
begins to bleed, to peel away, to shed
the outer layers as if to rid itself
of things remembered. There is no cure,
only respite days. Sometimes I can't bear
to touch anything. I think of Sarah Brown
struggling for air, her eyes locked on mine.
I know now, there are no gloves
white enough to save us.