poetry quarterly

10th anniversary


Donald Illich



At first he was out become his stomach
disagreed with him, then a cold snuck up
on his immune system, mugged it so work
was impossible. Some of us began to count
the days and the illnesses, as they increased
from a month to three months, as he fell ill
with severe allergies that needed operations,
as his entire body was about to rebel
from every kind of plague in the world,
as some people began to fear he'd be left
a head in a jar. Once we needed his absent
expertise, which stopped our projects
dead as if a zombie had eaten their brains.
Now we treat him as a lost ghost, who
sometimes shows up for an hour or two,
promising to finish the document we wanted,
but disappearing the next day, fading
into his afterlife. We wondered if he had leave
left, but obviously he'd stay on the payroll,
no matter what. His office would remain
filled with his stuff, his project calendar
for last year stuck to the wall. Some of us
began to see him as a saint. They prayed
when they wished to skip a long assignment,
said rosaries to his name. Soon, they'd
appear in casts, better off staying at home.
In time the office started to empty out.
Everyone else coughed, about to go home,
ready to call the next day their vanishings.



He always rode the same train
at the same hours. He smiled
at a woman with a backpack
who ignored him. He always
barely stood upright as the car
came into the station. Life
was assembled with the same
shapes, a puzzle that couldn't be
broken apart. Then one day
he didn't switch, didn't leave
one line for another. He felt
panic in his chest, but couldn't
move his body, like it was held
by a child playing with a doll.
The people changed, scenery
altered. A man with a mustache,
a girl chatting non-stop on her phone.
Now he was above ground,
seeing flowers and grass behind
a brown fence. He wondered what
was going on there, as if he could
have another existence. As he
continued on he wondered if
it would never end. This color
could roar on forever, into the night
across the world, or to another.
There were enough seats to sit.
He collapsed, dazed by chance.
He wouldn't call his work.
Let them believe he was sick.
The sense of movement relaxed him.
He threw his briefcase to the floor.
Ripped down his tie. He hoped
he had enough cash on his card.
He was going somewhere, anywhere.
Wherever he ended up would know
how to help him. With radiant sun
on his skin. With dogs and Frisbees
in the air. With government buildings
in the distance, remaining distant,
a dream he chose not to remember.



Donald Illich has published work in LIT, Passages North, and Nimrod. He was a semi-finalist for the Boston Review/'Discovery' Poetry Contest. He has worked as a writer in the civil service for almost 15 years, including for the Air Force and the Health Resources and Services Administration. He lives in Rockville, MD.


Published in Volume 13, Number 3, Summer 2012.

To read more by this author:
Donald Illich: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue