Certain in my Immortality – 1947

by Alice Folkart
First Place, November 2009
Judged by Majid Naficy

The park public pool, huge and blue,
even in polio season my favorite place,
everyone taking the same risks equally,
and the wise lifeguards, maybe sixteen at best
shouted, little girl, little girl, get back to the shallow end.

We couldn’t see the polio germs in the blue water,
nor clinging to our sun-reddened backs,
nor beaded on our eyelashes, nor between our little toes,
so we paid no mind to the calls of ‘little girl, little girl,’
and went on swimming where the water was darker blue.

Maybe those polio germs got some of those kids,
maybe the blond boys with freckles on their noses,
the ones who had water fights at the other end of the pool,
the ones who also didn’t listen to the life guards’ shouts
of, “Hey, guys, knock it off! No water fights.

Maybe those polio germs got the fat lady in the flower-petal swim cap,
or the old man with the belly as big as a whole baby pig,
or the skinny old woman, all angles like an erector set,
but they didn’t get me and they didn’t get the life guards
and I swam every day that summer, certain in my immortality.

Polio is associated with water. Remember FDR. While sailing in Canadian territory in 1921, he fell into the water. After getting on board he felt a chill, and in two days, was paralyzed from the waist down. The narrator's memory belongs to 1947, when the polio vaccine was not yet available. Now that swine flu is circulating, there is one more reason to relate to this beautiful and meaningful poem. Perhaps the poet is being ironic, because in spite of imminent danger, she speaks of a sense of immortality. Nevertheless, the polio situation is similar to any other risk-taking experience that we face in life. We usually cross our fingers, hope for the best, and assume that the misfortune will not fall upon ourselves. --Majid Naficy