One day he was a toothbrush,
the next day he was an ottoman.
He tried to go with the flow, to let
fingers shove him in mouths,
or legs and feet balance on his body.
But one time he was a roach, feeding
on cracker dust, and he decided
he needed a stable life. Sleeping,
he concentrated on being one thing,
and one thing only. Waking up
as a child, he admired his clear skin,
his curiosity, his desire to play with things.
A parent safely guided him through
a coloring book and told him a story,
then fed him beans and franks.
His chest seemed filled with light,
which he could spread to the rest
of the world. The next morning,
following his focus in his dreams,
he remained a boy. This day he played
with blocks, stacking red and blue,
and cuddled up with his father
on the couch, watching a cartoon.
He couldn’t wait for the weeks to come,
to be a loved one, a keeper of a heart.
But, on this day, a babysitter ate
popcorn with him, and told him
a scary story that kept him awake.
His parents did not reappear, though,
and he heard the babysitter whisper
with a police officer at the door.
He was taken away by an aunt,
who hugged him tight, couldn’t keep
tears out of her eyes. Scared,
he wished to be something else,
anything else. He thought of a brush,
or a wrench, or a chest of drawers.
But he woke up as a child, the one
who placed flowers on graves,
the one who now dreamed of car crashes,
of bodies unable to transform,
to change into anything but darkness.
Donald Illich has published poetry in journals such as The Iowa Review, Fourteen Hills, and Cold Mountain Review. He won Honorable Mention in the Washington Prize book contest. He recently published a chapbook, The Art of Dissolving.
Artwork: John Opie, Portrait of a Boy seeking alms, 1782