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Laura Ann Reed

Laura Ann Reed, a San Francisco Bay Area native, taught modern dance and ballet at the University of California, Berkeley before working as leadership development trainer at the San Francisco headquarters of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in the United States, Canada and Britain. She is the author of the chapbook, Shadows Thrown, (Sungold Editions, 2023). Laura and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest.

Polio Epidemic, 1952


Mother, it’s true I didn’t want you
to come with me that night—
I wanted Daddy
to worship me in my satin mask
and glitter, my billowing pink chiffon.
I waved my wand, intoned incantations
and watched you vanish
into an ambulance.


That Saturday in November,
the sack of sweets left uneaten on a table,
my suitcase packed:
books, clothes, crayons,
my lamb with its eye missing.
And then those miles unspooling
from our coastal home to an inland city where
I’ll stay with Aunt Lillian while you’re entombed
in the iron lung. Oh, that valley heat. That air
thick with peat dust.


Aunt Lillian, whose living room no one uses—
the matching love seats, plastic-sealed.
The pair of ceramic lamps standing guard
over a sofa I dare not jump on.
Aunt Lillian, who trails me with rags soaked in ammonia,
who bathes me wearing rubber gloves.
Go play outdoors, she tells me,
your body holds the virus.


Mother, those fairytales you record
on white vinyl 78s—one night I can’t bear
the faintness of your voice.
I lift the stylus before the story’s over,
slip the record into its cardboard sleeve,
slide between my sheets.


Toward morning, I dream I’m standing on a precipice
overlooking a lowlands where nothing moves.
No houses or roads. Only a blackish-green
coating the earth. The ground shifts
underfoot. I fall through darkness.
Wind fills my mouth.


That day Daddy comes to visit me
his gray Chrysler arrives
like a silver swan in Aunt Lillian’s driveway.
Catch me coming down the slide, I plead.
Push me on the swing one last time.
He kneels on the lawn, and strokes my cheek.
His words float overhead.


Mother, remember the cemetery
I made under the laurels—
those birds the cat killed,
that squirrel flattened by a tire—
The burials and prayers.
I was trying to undo the spell, marking
the graves with rose petals and shells.


I’m trying to show you, Mother,
how I can stand at an edge of myself.
How everything I say is a kind of prayer.
I’m petitioning you in your windowless room inside me
to lower your fist. To let even the darkest days glitter
with their own music, bright through the glass.


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