first cousins

my mom told me
about the night
franny got sick

one night
when she and my mom
were both little and shared
the same bed

it was franny’s stomach
but neither of them
knew then that polio
could start that way

they found out later
she got it from a girl
they walked to school with
who doctors said carried it
but never came down with it

my mom told me
she changed schools
the next year so she
could stay with franny

but then one day
she was told
franny had to go away
they didn’t say where

my mom remembered
being taken there once
with franny’s brother
and sister for a visit

and how they fell silent
inside when they saw
how many others were there

outside the building there was
a big grass hill rolling down and
on impulse all the visiting kids
bolted the doors and started
tumbling down the slope

she remembered
her Uncle Will coming out
and how she had never
seen him so mad

pointing back
to the windows
shaking as he said
“don’t you realize
they can see you?”

all these years later
shame still stopped
her story short

after a while she said

I remember
they all had such
beautiful eyes

like angels

what I remembered later
is how my mom was always
the happiest she ever was
whenever franny came to visit

and how
even though
I didn’t want to

I would always
watch out my window
when franny came

and the tortured way
she twisted down
our steps on crutches
dragging then throwing
one lifeless leg after another
toward our front door all
bent over and jerking
like a broken doll

and one morning hearing
my mom’s scream downstairs
after the phone rang
to say franny had died in the hospital
in the middle of an operation

I like to think of them
now the way they were
when they were little
together in their room
all tucked in at bedtime

but now in a place
where no child
ever gets sick in the night
and cut to the quick by life
or has to stay back behind closed windows
and watch while others play