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  • Ellen K. Reichman

Joanie was there to greet me

walked up those foreboding steps to

House of St. Giles, Home for the cripple,

only 13 years old

Joanie was there to greet me


Joanie never left St. Giles.

dropped as an infant, a ward of the state


she scared me at first

milky green marbles for eyes,

floating in a sea of white

she was blind.

brown cropped page boy hair flat on her head

one shoe with a larger heel to compensate for one leg being shorter than the other

hard to guess her age

maybe 10


she must have heard me sobbing softly into my pillow,

homesick and frightened –

anxiously waiting spinal fusion surgery to straighten my spine

followed by a body cast for six months

flat. on. my. back


like a vision, she appeared

at the foot of my bed. And sang

“Happy Talk, keep talking happy talk, talk about things you like to do,”

melodious voice and perfect pitch

nothing like her spoken voice,

hoarse with jumbled sounds resembling words

bed mates said she was “retarded”


if she could sing happy talk

there was hope for the six of us girls

confined to steel beds

at St. Giles with scoliosis.


hearing those sing song words

conjured up

images of dancing sunflowers

Joanie was like one of them

blossoming in the depths of despair.


in later years if I heard her song

I’d send sweet Joanie

a silent prayer -

Imaging her still singing

Joanie was there to greet me

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