Awake in a crib, her right leg aches
though she doesn’t yet know right from left.
Pain appears after a day of outside play,
so her calf begs for Daddy’s massage.
Instead, the tot stifles tears with a pillow,
for she can’t make demands, show want.
It’s her two-year-old fault she had polio.
The little girl caused Mommy’s misery.
She’s to blame for her mommy’s rage.
She can’t create any more trouble,
so she stuffs feelings into fat cells.
The little girl will slumber here
until age seven since this room lacks
space for another bed.
Always put to sleep too early,
through the window, she watches
friends in summer twilight.
She knows never to worry Mommy,
she asks a neighbor how to fall asleep.
“Think of happy things,” Sophie says,
and, so, insomnia begins.
She hugs no doll, no cuddly teddy bear,
nothing to clutch during tearful nights.
At play in girlfriends’ homes, she pines
for what they have but dares not ask.
Her sibling speaks right up,
and Mommy yells at him.
On her eighth birthday, an uncle,
having heard of her lack,
buys the little girl a Tiny Tears doll,
but, for her, it’s too late to learn to love.
WHEN SHE WAS LITTLE BY JOAN GERSTEIN