A TRILOGY: Chicago, Summer 1946


My mother
the last half
of her pregnancy
in an iron lung
trolling for breath.

She used to be
a painter and a pianist
surrounded by air and light,
color and melody.
How could she get used to
living encased
in the amorphous,
atonal, antiseptic
day in
day out
of fluorescent light,
and the relentless drone
of the mechanical lung?

My mother didn’t live a long life.
I think the price to stay
must have felt like usury.

Once she relinquished her dreams
she let the undertow


Marie Kartholl Cassidy,
Rest in Peace, September 11, 1975


Photo: My Mom with my brother Tom the summer of 1942, four years before she contacted polio in the summer of 1946.

Submerged https://www.thegreatsmokiesreview.org/2012/poetry/submerged



In the Shadow

She seemed like a fragile flower, petrified  as though she had inhaled the dust  of late-summer’s  drought, the summer  my mother came  home.

By then our two-flat felt like a crooked house, three generations  listing, top-heavy with age and infirmity.  At the window  she dozed and tilted in her chair, wheels locked.  I learned to slide  out the front door  unnoticed,  happily avoiding her  impossible gaze.

Things were not right. 

Vigilant on my tricycle with the big front wheel, I traveled  the neighborhood. 

My uniform, a babushka and a too-big leather bomber jacket, I patrolled Francisco Avenue to Devon and back up.  

I scoured backyards, houses, alleys and gangways inspecting people.

I knew of no other preschooler in this line of work; I felt important.   I rode with purpose, avoiding pitfalls like old people,  tree-rooted sidewalks, kids. 

After circling awhile, I’d return down the back alley, slip into the house through the basement door.




What Isn’t

a rock is itself
only a rock until it isn’t anymore
when it becomes, say, a cornerstone
that binds what has been,
what is to come

You see, there was a time she felt as though she was stepping through a gate laden with brambles.   Knotted underbrush clung to her thoughts so heavily she might topple.   Untenable, leaden, the smell of ruin, taste of loss  

there was a person,
only a person until
she wasn’t anymore

On the other side of the gate at a distance, she fell upon strewn artifacts,  shambles of possibility, re-patterned replicas protruded from the ground, minute bits of colored glass, clouded gems, tattered silks and linens 


deconstructed shards
they disappear
as she reaches for them

She has to rest from her foraging because,
in her way of thinking, 
none of the pieces fit.
She needs something beautiful to be hidden here.


Comments (7)

  • Very touching! I especially love the description of you slipping out on your tricycle to patrol the ‘hood! Now I understand better the source of your resilience and focus.

  • Although I’ve read and heard these beautiful poems before, each time their power of description and sorrow hits me in the heart and gut! Thank you.

  • A beautiful tribute indeed. And so powerful. My mother’s oldest brother died of polio at age 17. It’s easy to forget in 2023, what a devastating disease it was.

  • Piercingly beautiful word pearls that reveal the deep places you so lovingly touched with and through you mother. She surely finds expression to us through you!

  • This is very touching Jean. I was especially moved by what a vigilant little girl you were – and felt you had ti be.

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