Rotary International, along with the WHO, CDC, and UNICEF, voluntarily crusades to eradicate polio globally in places where it is still crippling and killing children. This poem, written by Carol Lewis, is dedicated to those who are the poem’s title -
Polio Plus Heroes
Salk and Sabin knew little
about the decision to eat or
not, unlike the father who must deny
his daily beggar’s wage to say ‘yes’
to his son’s only chance to walk, to move
without dragging withered legs behind or crawling
on knobby knees, callused palms behaving like
feet. Lucky, he did not ride on his brother’s
back but crept on his own to scour
trash before the dogs or pigs ate his scraps,
was already close to the pond scum
that others’ backs bent toward, cleared to bathe.

At free surgery camp among India’s poor, polio
victims queue up, take a number like a lottery
and pray they make it to the front before surgeries
and sunlight end. Twenty children lie recovering in antiquation,
their beds of iron no cure for pain, yet they smile while their
tortured limbs align into a future and hope floats
into their mother’s eyes. For each one, there are hundreds
more who cling to the millions of volunteers flooding
their country. Rotarians worldwide desert their comfort, risk life,
to work magic with two precious vaccine drops that may
change misery into joy…for 40 cents…pennies that promise
to defeat the despair of polio.

No child can escape or be immune, wealth
and wishes do not protect without two droplets,
each tiny pinkie purpled with telltale ink
for the track record. Then just imagine if – imagine –
a whole world free from fear and pain,
free to be. Dreams are real when dreamed as one,
and one by one, one less disease will wilt our young.
No more shoes on their hands, no more
brothers who resemble rice sacks, un-marriageable
girls with paralysis, stigma; post-polio syndrome
will gloriously disappear, replaced by the wholesome face of humanity
By Carol Lewis