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..:: CONTENTS ::..
   Volume IV, Issue I

..:: POETRY ::..

..:: PROSE ::..
..:: HORTON ::..

..:: ETC ::..
   Contributor's Notes

..:: ARCHIVES ::..
   Volume I, Issue I
   Volume I, Issue II
   Volume II, Issue I
   Volume II, Issue II
   Volume III, Issue I
   Volume III, Issue II


My First Polio
Lynn Strongin


How could a mother name her child after a polished Siberian stone, Lapis-Lazuli: The densest, most opaque and saturated blue. To live up to my name, I had to reach the sky. Alias Indigo, a bolt of cloth dyed that peculiar blue-violet of early American Indigo. Given a heaven, we imagine it to be blue. I was taken aback when someone once told me to live up to my face: it was the name I could not fulfill: either I must reach up, or like indigo cloth, the famous strong homespun fabric, shelter and clothe the young, the wounded around me. Rachel, my kid-sister, was simply Rach.

"Lynn, we are all measured, cut to wear the cloth we are given."

Mother spoke in measured terms, like a solemn music: firm, but not severe.

Once I met a nun who said, "Before you had legs, now you have God. You are selected for Daughterhood, a servant of the Eternal."

Bird Ambulance is overdue, I reminded myself (while she spoke, both of us shadowed by leaves which danced over us like mirror-reflections). Must return it Monday or will have a fine.


Up North, dawn glazing to pewter, or down South, daybreak bruising into saffron.
I should have known when the angel was knocked off our mantle, her right wing severed from her body, that it was to prophesize our lives. I caught her reflection in the mantle mirror the split-second she broke. There was a bead of Lapis Lazuli from Siberia for each of her eyes.

Home was wherever Rachel, Mother and I were together. My mother had sung all night the night I was born, in New York city at the end of the Dirty Thirties. She herself had been born in Boston. A daughter of New England which revolves wholly around water, a water star radiating in many directions: like a pin-wheel round its pin, a carousel round its music, its horses whirling, and its glistening brass ring. I cut my teeth on Mozart and Chopin etudes she practiced late at night, in those loneliest days of her life when she no longer was in love with her husband and was trying to figure out how to divorce while her father, Rosenblum, the brilliant research chemist who bore the same name as our father, Israel, was still alive, her father the brilliant immigrant from Roumania, research chemist who—even then—had won the family's fortune and who had predicted the marriage would come to grief. Rosenblum had a cutting edge to his tongue and my father avowed was the most brilliant man he had ever met. My grandfather—I remembered mainly his stunning silence and his velvet gardens. In homes with leaded glass panes, diamonds, the kind of glass that wrinkles. His estate.

The marriage did end in ruin. The angel's wing was shattered, that with which she would have flown, her hand severed, that with which she could have written. Yet the recording angel in me was wakened.

Down South, the sky at times was parchment, was magnolia-fine, bone-ivory or like Irish lace. Up North, the sky was a shell out of Pieter Brueghel the elder: For me, the leader: that teal frost of a lower heaven which interchanged the word Heaven for Winter. "You were born to be torn in half," said Mother.

Through all the moves, the distances, the trauma of the past fifty years we have been singing back and forth to each other, three women, the Three Graces we were called from the Mid-Forties on. Wherever we were the compass pointed Home whether Mother set us up for one week in a Memphis hotel room, or we sunk our stakes into another Army Post on another Godforsaken outpost of New York, the city which intersects my life. Overflowing with energy, I'd thwack sign posts, when I was four and five, leaving them resonating, their pipe ringing till I was out of earshot. These were lonely rig towns, mining and mill towns. Bricked-in linen mills began to haunt my dreams: the boarded-up windows, nailed, against the red thread-thin color, heavenly hue, of old brick which I was to perceive later in Seventeenth Century Dutch artists. Those were our rooms! Their gloom, their penetrating shafts of light: their mirrors, their quiet heartbreak, which nonetheless spilled over: the young girls and women with intense absorption making lace, reading a letter.

Intense absorption: that was what we had as adolescent girls. "The graveyard is full of irreplaceable poets, Indigo," Mother said. "Write."

These patterns of choir were set up from the cradle. Mother played Ravel at night on the old black upright piano in the hallway, playing she tells me I came down and played the exact same music in morning. This was a constant like The Settlement Cookbook with its happy kids trailing a mother to the bake oven on the yellowed cover was part of our lives; it stood in every kitchen we ever had, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach," it said. The "Cheerful Cherub" came out in the newspaper every morning during the war, urging Americans to show the British trait of a stiff upper lip. Mother turned to us, me especially when I looked at war headlines. "What can one do? You can't leave town." Then she put her arms around me and said, ""C'mon, Lapis, c'mon, Indigo." I'd smile. I was the only one with green eyes in the family. Neither lapis nor indigo but I wanted them to be. I coveted the eyes of angel like those of almost all our dolls. Non-brown, that's what my eyes were. Mother called me a dirty blonde, a natural blonde.

Rachel would look up to me in those early times, and say, "Keep good care of me, Lynn." The cathedral-radios of our early girlhood dignifying the background, playing. It amazed my mother, my playing on the piano precisely what she had played the night before, same key, same notes. My ear had recorded it, memorized the melodies. It assuaged my pain, helped mend my sadness, like lace, over our father being gone. The war.

I have vignettes of my father: He did put in cameo appearances during the war on leave.

Baruch Atov Adonoi, the gentle, slightly gravelly voice would say. He took me to the Russian Tea Room right beside Carnegie Hall. The war had been over only a year. In the air, euphoria. In this historic tearoom, with its dark burnished wood, its buzz of activity from musicians who came in before and after concerts, there was a custom of presenting the prettiest girl of the day with a rose. That day, a tall mustachioed gentleman came over to me, "For you," he said extending his hand with a pale pink rose. "Me?" I held it. I smiled all the way on the drive home catching my rose cheeks, my dirty blonde hair, my grin. What would mother say? She'd say, "It wants water," and plunk it in a mayonnaise jar filled with water on our oilcloth kitchen table.
Looking at Mother one evening, I noticed what a beautiful breastbone she had. Sternum she told me it was called. "Remember that, Indigo." It was near the heart. It was the body's most vulnerable spot, where the pain was lodged.


Julys and Augusts during the Nineteen-Forties polio epidemics raged, whole families of children carried out on stretchers into ambulances with it: the dread of catching the virus ignited parents till panic spread, wildfire. Sidewalks buckled and rippled like a washboard: you could see the heat shimmering off cement and tarmac. You could pop tar-bubbles with your toe and chew them. Still your parents would not let you go to a public swimming pool, a movie, even a grocery store to buy nickel candy. You might get paralyzed like Hillary. That meant wearing your leg in a brace, not being able to run like the other children, to climb trees, hike ever again.

In winter, ponds in New York and up in New Hampshire and Maine froze silvery: cobalt you could almost see touch the frost, ice particles hitting air like your breath. We lived in upstate New York. 1945 on a chicken farm. The glacial Northern skies under which we lived when the war ended, were reflective of the pale bayou Southern skies. The songs of comfort about Jesus which our Black nannies sang to us up North when we couldn't sleep reflected the Spirituals we had heard chain gangs of prisoners sing down South.

We were Jewish, but non-observant. It became crystal-clear to me that I had formed some mystical religion of my own. Some voice said to me: "When you pass through the flames you will not burn. When the waters circle you, you will not drown."


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